Carrying on a legacy: Burks out to rep grandfather's name

Arkansas holds a scrimmage game Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019, during fan day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — “Well, you can play defense, but there’s no way you can catch a football,” a doctor told Treylon Burks after breaking his hand in a Week 2 game at Stuttgart in his sophomore year.

For longtime Warren High School football coach Bo Hembree, that statement set the stage for his fondest on-field memory of Burks, the latest in a long line of phenoms to play receiver for the Lumberjacks. The following week against Watson Chapel, Hembree planned to play Burks, wearing a white cast over his right hand, only on defense.

Then, unexpectedly, one of Warren’s starting receivers went down with an ACL injury in the first quarter. Plans quickly changed as Burks was asked to fill in and run routes.

“We’re not going to throw you the ball,” Hembree recalls telling his star before joining the offense. “And that’s how he ended up having like 11 catches for 285 yards and three touchdowns - with one hand.

“Just watching that film of his as a sophomore, it was crazy watching him play with one hand.”

Burks, who finished his illustrious high school career with 151 catches for 3,403 yards and 43 touchdowns, was one of four four-star receivers signed in Arkansas’ most recent recruiting class. He chose the Razorbacks over a litany of other Power 5 offers that included LSU, Clemson, Auburn and Michigan.

Though he possesses exemplary athletic abilities that attracted nationwide attention at an early age, those who know Burks best and surround him on a daily basis declare he is a star off the field, too, a down-to-earth country boy who can most likely be found at a local pond with a fishing pole in hand or hunting in his spare time.

“He has a lot of friends and is real popular as far as kids his age, and even the older people who hunt with him,” Hembree said. “He’s went hunting with my son, my brother-in-law, so he goes with a lot of people around here.

“There’s not too many around town that’s not had contact with Treylon as far as hunting with him or fishing with him. We have a bunch of ponds around here, and Treylon would call to see if he could fish. Everybody would say yes. He’d always go thank them when he got done. He’s got a really good personality that everybody responds to.”

The Monday prior to Arkansas’ season opener against Portland State, Burks was listed as one of three options on the team’s depth chart to return punts. Arkansas coach Chad Morris later clarified that the freshman would start at what he described as a “trust position.”

That Wednesday, Morris added that he couldn’t recall starting a true freshman at punt return before in his career. He was clear, too, that Burks had earned the role throughout preseason practices. In wrapping up his response, Morris took a moment to commend the freshman’s character.

“He's a fantastic individual, and y'all see him as a football player, but we see him as both,” he said. “He’s a better person than he is a football player. I can tell you that's a credit to his family and credit to his coach and program.”

Burks’ sister played basketball at Warren and the two are very close, according to Hembree. He also shared a tight bond with his grandfather, Joe Burks, a custodian and bus driver in the school district, Treylon said, who passed away four years ago.

In his first visit to the interview room in the Fred Smith Center on Tuesday, Burks said his mission is to carry on his grandfather’s legacy.

“He was always a Razorback fan,” the freshman said. “I kind of knew a little bit that I was going to come here, but not much. Just living that dream up for him is a big honor for me. … He was really just a well-known man up in Warren, helping people and just being a great man.”

During Burks’ first preseason practice with the Razorbacks, Jimmy Longo, a former Arkansas photographer who recently accepted a position on the Cleveland Cavaliers’ social media team, took a series of photos detailing the newcomer’s initial workout. Burks later captioned the 30-plus shots on Arkansas' official team website.

Among the pictures was a close-up of the back of his helmet, which bore the last name he took from his grandfather.

“My family always pushed me, and my grandpa kept telling me when I was younger that I was going to be something in life,” Burks wrote. “My grandma took that role once my grandpa died and was always pushing me to be better. For me to have the name ‘Burks’ on my back is really an honor. I want to rep my grandpa’s name.”

Joe Burks was an older man when Hembree arrived at Warren, but described him as a hard worker, a characteristic bestowed to Treylon, coaches say.

“Great guy. Great man,” Hembree said. “Pretty much his whole family, he was the centerpiece of that family. They all do a good job of honoring him in the way they act and the way they carry themselves. What you see from Treylon is exactly the way he was when he was here.

“Treylon is well liked, and so was Joe. … He was very accountable, and he expected his grandkids to be very accountable and his whole family to be accountable. That’s how he raised them.”

In late June, receivers coach Justin Stepp posted a 23-second video to Twitter of Burks relaxing in the Razorbacks' players lounge watching an episode of Gunsmoke, a TV Western that ended in 1975. Stepp, the prospect's lead recruiter, labeled Burks "the most interesting kid in the world."

Freshman receiver Trey Knox can attest to Burks' affinity for Westerns.

"Like, he wakes up early in the morning and watches them," Knox said Tuesday. "I’m like, ‘Bro, you should be sleeping right now.’ He’ll put on a story, it’ll be like 4-5 in the morning before a workout, and he’s watching Westerns. I’m like, ‘OK, I guess that’s how you get your day started.’

"But he’s a cool guy to get to know because not too many people are Treylon Burks."