Written by Matt Wixon
Hebron linebacker Gavin Burford takes Jekyll-Hyde approach to game of football
CARROLLTON — When people see the soft-spoken, easygoing, usually smiling Gavin Burford play football for the first time, they might think the roster is incorrect.
He’s the linebacker pumping his fist after flattening the running back? That’s him leaning back and roaring after chasing down the quarterback?
“Something comes out of me when I play football,” Burford said. “It’s aggressive and crazy.”
And effective. Burford (6-1, 220) was an all-district linebacker last season and is among the leaders in tackles this season for Hebron (5-3, 2-1 District 5-5A), which can clinch a playoff spot Friday with a win over Lewisville (3-5, 1-2).
“As animated and flamboyant as he is on the field, you’d think he’s a maniac,” Hebron coach Brian Brazil said. “Sometimes it’s like he’s an actor. He puts on a mask and goes out on the field, and people are like, ‘Who is that kid?’”
Just a kid who has really loved playing football since the second grade.
But given Burford’s intensity, it’s not surprising that his grandfather was a boxer. Ernest Burford Sr., who died four years ago, had a 37-24-4 record in 14 years as a boxer. His career from 1956 to 1970 included one win and two losses against Rubin Carter, whose story was told in the movie The Hurricane.
Gavin Burford’s hits only come on the football field, but he did train as a boxer last summer. He did it three times a week to improve his football skills.
“For my hands, it helped just in shedding blocks when a lineman comes at me,” he said, “and for my feet, getting to the line of scrimmage quicker.”
Burford has no interest in pursuing boxing, however. And although he enjoyed playing forward last year for Hebron’s regional basketball finalist, football is his sport. That’s the sport that drives Burford — and changes him when he takes the field.
It’s hard to believe, but that No. 1 in the Hebron blue is Burford. That’s the quiet, studious senior, the guy interested in studying architectural design or business in college, who is plowing into the ball carrier.
“I just like hitting everybody,” Burford said. “It’s a physical sport, and I’m a physical person.”
“I think it’s pretty liberating for him,” said Gavin’s father, Ernest Burford Jr. “I think he’s perfectly, 100 percent comfortable out there.”
Burford doesn’t yet have a Division I scholarship offer, but he’s being recruited by several Conference USA schools, including UT-San Antonio. Brazil expects him to get offers after the season.
Hebron has several stars on defense, including three seniors (safety Jamal Adams, defensive end Daniel Wise and defensive back Cedric Dale) who are ranked among the area’s top 100 recruits. But Burford never gets lost in the crowd.
“We’ve got some great players, but he’s as much the heart and soul of this defense as anyone,” Brazil said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever had a kid who loves football, in practice and games, as much as him.”
Follow Matt Wixon on Twitter @mattwixon.