Champe three-sport star Zach Burdick will be playing football next year at William & Mary after shining at the quarterback position. Photo © Michael Walgren/Viva Loudoun
Aldie, VA (Apr. 24, 2016) – Sports have an incredible power to unite a community and to inspire young people in search of a role model. This is the story of future William and Mary quarterback Zach Burdick, who used his prowess as an athlete to transform a struggling new school.
John Champe High School was established in 2012 and was severely lacking in school spirit in its first couple years, and the sports teams labored to compete against more tenured schools.
Burdick’s presence not only helped turn around the quality of the product on the athletic fields for the Knights, but he brought the entire Aldie community along with him. The three-sport star played four years of football, four years of basketball and one year of baseball, lettering nine times and captivating many along the way.
Just like a school that started off with little hope on the horizon, Burdick entered his freshman year about five-feet tall and 120 pounds. He played primarily on the freshman football team for the Knights but dressed on varsity as a receiver, seeing action a handful of times that year on a squad that went 0-10.
Despite his lack of size as a freshman, he started on varsity at point guard that winter on the basketball team, as the Knights went on to finish the year 1-19.
“It was kind of rough those first few years,” Burdick said, “the school spirit wasn’t there, people weren’t buying into it because it was a new school, our first year we opened we didn’t have any seniors, so the school was not only empty, it felt a little lonely and losing wasn’t a good feeling. It was almost a surprise if we won.”
As a sophomore, Burdick this time earned a starting job on the varsity football team at wide receiver, as the crew managed to improve to 2-8.
He again started at point guard on the hardwood that winter, a team that actually began to show some promise, going 11-12 on the season, still unaware of the fascinating prep journey that was brewing.
Prior to his junior year, Burdick approached football’s Coach Jason Dawson about the prospect of him switching to quarterback, something Coach Dawson had mentioned to a young Burdick playing on the freshman team. At the time, however, Burdick didn’t want to stop playing receiver.
“That offseason, Coach Dawson brought us all together and made us believe, with a lot of hard work, that we could actually do something,” Burdick said. “And I went up to him and asked if it was possible that I try to start playing quarterback, and he gave me the go-ahead.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Burdick’s junior year, which was also the junior year of the school’s existence, marked the beginning of a new era for the Knights’ program in its entirety.
“I ended up winning the starting quarterback job, I mean, I had never played quarterback before, and we opened the season 2-0,” Burdick said.
Those two wins in the first two games matched the Knights’ win total from the previous two seasons combined. With Burdick at the helm, playing a position he had never played, the squad went through the season a very respectable 8-4 and even won a playoff game.
“Even though we lost in the second round, it still felt good to go from 0-10, 2-8, to a winning record, our first playoff appearance and a win,” Burdick said. “And the freshman team I played on, we were all going to be seniors the following year, and we felt we could really do some damage senior year and really put Champe on the map.”
But the success of junior year did not end on the gridiron.
The basketball team, under new Head coach Bill Maher and with Burdick still leading the attack at point guard, cruised through the season with a 19-5 record, were conference champions, and reached the regional semifinals.
With the buzz building around the football and basketball programs and already the savior of the school playing both quarterback and point guard and having grown to 6-foot-1, 178-pounds, Burdick extended his legacy by playing baseball as well as a junior, because why not?
“Looking back on my junior year, I was extremely excited for the upcoming senior year because both teams had a lot of juniors that were going to be seniors,” Burdick said. “There was a lot of hype going into our senior year for both sports, we were just anxious for the next the next season, we had been working so hard.”
As it turns out, the newfound hype surrounding the Knights football program was justified as the team rolled through the regular season a perfect 10-0, flipping from winless to undefeated in a matter of four years and winning the Dulles District. After a first round bye in the playoffs, they went on to fall two games later to the eventual state champions, Salem, finishing the miracle season at 11-1.
Burdick tossed for 2,063 yards and 11 touchdowns, and ran for another 807 yards in his final chapter on the turf for the Knights.
“I’m never okay with a loss, but I can still hold my head high after that season knowing that we gave everything we had,” Burdick said. “So it was a heartbreaking finish and we rolled right into basketball season.”
The dream journey continued for Burdick and the Knights on the court as they improved their record to 23-5, again winning the conference and this time reaching the regional championship game and even reaching the state semifinals. Burdick averaged 14.8 points per game on a well-balanced team.
“Sophomore to junior year was the big transition because we started to win games,” Burdick said. “People slowly started coming out to support us and senior year it took off, everybody was going to the games on Friday nights, everybody was wishing you good luck in the hallways, people making signs and cheering.”
More so than his personal success, the change in the Aldie community is what stands out for Burdick from his four years in high school, seeing a passionate fan base develop before his eyes.
“To see the change, to see the hard work actually paying off, to see people’s attitudes change toward the program, was one of the greatest feelings,” he said.
One young individual in the community by the name Taft Dempsey, 10, was given a school assignment to write a letter to a person who has influenced him. Having gone to every home Champe football game and having read multiple articles about the Knights’ star quarterback and point guard, Dempsey naturally wrote a letter to his idol, Burdick.
Charmed by the boy’s letter, Burdick met Dempsey for the first time on April 15 in an arranged gathering at Kravitz Orthodontics in South Riding, a place where both parties are patients.
“It was pretty surreal, it’s something that’s never happened to me before,” Burdick said, “and to see the kid’s face when I met him and the interaction, it was just something I’ve never felt before and it was one of the top moments I’ve ever experienced.”
Through his prowess in sports, Burdick was able to rally a community behind a struggling new school, be an inspiration to the next generation as positive role model, and even earn a spot on the roster of the William & Mary football team, one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country.
After sending his highlights to the William & Mary coaching staff as a junior, Burdick was invited to the Tribe’s junior day prospect camp in the summer of 2015. He again sent film from his outstanding senior year, and then it was a waiting game to see if he would make the cut.
“I got the call on February 26 that they wanted me to come down and play for them, I’ve never felt so happy in one moment,” he said.
The waiting game was over. Burdick signed his letter of intent the very next day, making him officially a member of the Tribe and capping off a high school voyage paralleled by few and marveled by many. Just ask young Taft Dempsey.
Viva Loudoun: We Live For Loudoun™
Written by Josh Apple
Special to Viva Loudoun