Bradley Central's Javon Burke makes most of bigger stage

Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Bradley Central running back Javon Burke (3) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during a home game against Maryville on Oct. 8.

Javon Burke had been more of a role player in Bradley Central's offense in recent seasons, which might have caused some people to underestimate just what he was capable of on the football field.

With injuries and defections altering the Bears' 2020 roster, though, Burke has had an opportunity to show some - and remind others - that he's a talented player.

Running back Ricky McCleary graduates? No problem. Stepbrother Tray Curry leaves for North Cobb High School in Georgia? No problem. Javon's twin brother Javin, a Division I recruit, goes down in the opener with an injury? No problem.

Despite the obstacles such vacancies created for Bradley's offense, Javon made it his mission to show there's nothing to worry about.

Mission accomplished.

In the Bears' first five games, Javon averaged 12.6 carries and 82.6 yards. In the past six - starting with a 19-carry, 237-yard performance against rival Cleveland - his averages have jumped up to 27.2 carries and 217.8 yards per game, with 10 touchdowns. He had 225 yards on 33 carries and a touchdown in the Bears' 17-14 win over Farragut last week in the first round of the TSSAA Class 6A playoffs.

In between was a 163-yard showing against Maryville, 281 yards against William Blount, 220 against Soddy-Daisy and 181 McMinn County. The offensive load has primarily been put on his shoulders, with quarterback Aiden McClary stepping in for Javin Burke and receiver Kannon Hall (66 catches, 939 yards, seven scores) providing a playmaking presence on the outside.

"He's always kind of been in Javin's and Tray's shadow," Bradley coach Damon Floyd said. "I think that's had something to do with what we're seeing. I think he's playing for his brother as well; when his brother got hurt, Javon came in my office and asked if he could wear (Javin's) No. 3. It was like, 'This thing isn't about me anymore; it's about them.'

"So I think that's had a huge impact. His brother doesn't get to play, so Javon's doing it for him. I think both of those factors played a huge role in the type of player he is now."

Bradley (8-3) is at Maryville (11-0) in this week's second round for a rematch of the Oct. 8 meeting, won 35-13 by the Rebels.

"I've been excited that I've been able to showcase what I've been able to do," Burke said. "I knew that for us to win, I was going to have to step up, Aiden was going to have to step up and Kannon was going to have to step up, and everybody else would have to pitch in when they could pitch in."

Javin - who has committed to Virginia and plans to graduate next month and enroll at the Atlantic Coast Conference school - jokingly admitted he "didn't want" Javon to switch from No. 1 to No. 3. The gesture speaks to the bond between the two brothers, however, and if there's a person who isn't surprised by Javon's emergence on the field, it's him.

"It's been real good to see," Javin said. "He's just been doing what he's always been doing, and now he's finally on a big enough stage to be able to show everybody what he could do. It took him long enough, but at least he's there now."

Burke is up to 1,722 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground this season, with the yardage total the third highest in program history. The player directly ahead of him? Floyd, who had 1,816 yards in 1995.

Because he was somewhat under the radar on the field before this season, it's no surprise his recruiting reflected that. He currently has offers from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Appalachian State, Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, UT-Martin and Western Carolina, but Floyd believes Burke's recruitment has been hampered by COVID-19 as he was unable to attend camps this past summer.

"He's a (Football Bowl Subdivision) guy," Floyd said. "He's as fast as we've ever had here."

There will be time after the season for college programs to come calling for Burke, who has already shown patience in that regard.

His attention right now is on the Bears and Maryville and having the chance to end a 47-game losing streak for Chattanooga-area schools against the Rebels, with Cleveland the most recent to knock off the 17-time state champions in the 1994 season. Burke has shown he knows how to make the most of an opportunity, and he thinks the Bears can, too.

"I want to say we're a lot different from the last time," Burke said. "We were driving the ball down the field. We just have to be able to score in the red zone and convert third downs, and execute and just do what we do."

Contact Gene Henley at Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.