Former Bradley Central star Javon Burke wants to help UTC passing game grow

UTC photo by Charles Mays / UTC receiver Javon Burke, who was a prep standout at Bradley Central, hopes to help the Mocs have more of a downfield threat to their passing game this fall.

Javon Burke appeared in one game for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football team last season, and he generated one highlight that was taken away due to a penalty.

The former Bradley Central High School standout was a freshman receiver in a veteran-laden position group in 2021, with three seniors logging time. But the impending exit of experienced players - along with the fact that former All-Southern Conference selection Bryce Nunnelly had already departed last spring - meant there was a need for the Mocs to start getting some younger receivers on the field to prepare them for what was ahead.

So in the fifth game of the schedule, on Oct. 1 at Southern Conference rival East Tennessee State University, coaches told Burke he was going in. The play was a reverse, and he promptly sprinted around the left side for a 27-yard gain.

Only problem? A hold that called the play back.

"I'm like, I've got to get ready," Burke said, noting he forgot to buckle his chin strap when he went in. "I had to calm down when I got in there; I just heard the crowd and everything, but then I just slowed down and breathed. The play happened fast. I turned around and I was happy, but then I saw the flag.

"I saw the play on film. It didn't look like a flag."

Speed isn't a problem for Burke. In addition to his versatility for Bradley Central's football program in the fall, he was a standout on the track for the Bears in the spring, including third-place finishes in the TSSAA Division I Large Class state meet in the 100-meter dash (10.73 seconds) and the 200 (21.482).

The Mocs are currently going through spring practices under coach Rusty Wright for the first time, and Burke said they're trying to throw the ball downfield a bit more this season. That should play right into his hands. The receiver group is young but talented, and Burke is ready to compete for the opportunity to contribute to an offense coordinated by Joe Pizzo.

"I just worked as hard as I could to do what we want to do and fit that picture that Coach is wanting us to fit," Burke said. "We have a lot of speed in our room, and they want to use us because he feels like we can be a big help to this team. The offensive coordinator wants to get the ball up the field, and he feels like we're the guys that can get it down the field. Last year we ran the ball a lot - we were ninth in passing (in the SoCon) - and we want to balance that so we can score points."

photo UTC photo by Dale Rutemeyer / Former Bradley Central standout Javon Burke, shown with the football during UTC's game at East Tennessee State last October, hopes to be ready for a bigger role as a Mocs receiver this season.

The Mocs finished 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the SoCon last season, missing the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, which was definitely a disappointment for the program after being preseason favorites to win the conference.

That has given 2022 the feel of a year for redemption, and Burke is looking forward to an opportunity to have a role in that.

"We've definitely got the people in the right places and the talent to do better than we did last year," he said. "We look at past years and what we did in some of those games at what we could have done differently. The way we played against ETSU, the way we played against Kentucky, we should have played that way all season.

"This year is a prove-it season, and we're just trying to get better every day, because at the end of the day, we're the only ones that are going to make ourselves better, so we're just trying to go out and beat everybody by what we can do."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3.