By Conor Walsh Correspondent
Gloucester Daily Times
---- — While some of his Manchester Essex teammates may subscribe to the kinds of bizarre superstitions that often grace a football locker room, Cory Burnham keeps it simple.
For the senior quarterback, it’s two staples of childhood that highlight his game day routine: waffles for breakfast and a pre-game peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“I’ve just always done it,” Burnham said. “I always make sure to have some peanut butter and jelly around.”
Few that have seen him on the field would guess Burnham’s fuel could also be found in a kindergartener’s lunchbox.
A pre-game meal of raw eggs and broken glass, maybe, but not a PB&J.
Burnham’s about as gritty as they come under center, every bit as tough in the running game as he is gifted through the air. And while the co-captain’s senior season has been less than ideal -- the Hornets enter tonight’s game against North Reading at 1-6 -- it’s been Burnham that’s at least kept the team above water.
Coach Mike Athanas had Burnham penciled in as the centerpiece of his offense before the season began. But after a slew of injuries have left the Hornets shorthanded, particularly in the backfield, it’s gotten to the point where the Hornets’ attack lives and dies by the play of Burnham.
He hasn’t disappointed. Burnham enters tonight’s game as one of the area’s top passers, having piled up 736 yards and seven touchdowns through the air.
At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, though, his running style breaks the mold of the typical dual-threat high school quarterback. He’s more likely to lower the shoulder on an opposing linebacker than break for the sideline.
“I always cringe (when he lowers the shoulder), but you can’t worry about it,” Athanas said. “He’s a big kid. He’s rugged, he plays through pain and he’s a tough kid. He’s always solid.”
A two-year starter for the Hornets, Burnham’s the latest installment in a long line of successful quarterbacks to come through the program.
From Pat Orlando to Alex Carr, and now to Burnham, the Hornets’ offense always seems to find itself led by a strong signal-caller. And with the Hornets’ spread offense, run primarily out of the shotgun, that’s a necessity.
Like those that came before him, Burnham’s been up to the task.
“How we run our offense, the quarterback really does carry the load for us,” Athanas said.
“We’ve had some good quarterbacks and he does a lot of the same stuff they could do. They have to. We’ve been running the same system for a long time. We’ve had a couple of good quarterbacks going to college and playing at the college level, and I think that he can do the same.”
While the college gridiron is the ultimate goal for Burnham -- his top choice currently being Salve Regina, followed by Western New England, UMass Dartmouth, Curry and Endicott, in no particular order -- he’s still got four more games with his Hornets’ teammates to relish.
“I’ve been thinking about it since the end of last baseball season,” Burnham said of his final 11 high school games.
“Once we really got into the full swing of football, I was like, ‘Wow. There’s only 11 more games that I get to go out there with my buddies and play on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons.’”
To this point, that senior season hasn’t gone according to plan for Burnham. Injuries have hampered the Hornets’ already-thin roster to the point that Burnham now finds himself playing both sides of the ball, patrolling the defensive secondary as a safety. He likes being on the field as much as possible, but even Burnham admits the time on defense has been trying.
“It’s been tough but I enjoy it,” Burnham said. “I just want to do whatever I can, and just being out there in front of everybody is awesome.”
“We’ve even had to go to him on defense, which he’s never had to do, and he’s done a pretty good job at it,” Athanas added. “It’s a matter of convenience for us not to have him play defense injury-wise, but we’re to a point now where he needs to contribute on both sides of the ball.”
While, in a perfect world, Burnham would find himself on the sideline while the Hornets’ defense takes the field, his willingness to play both ways speaks to his team-first nature.
He’s always in the weight room, always around the locker room.
He maintains a steady demeanor, grounded through the highs and unshaken through the lows.
And while he may not be the most vocal leader to pass through the Hornets’ locker room, his example is more than enough.
“Cory’s a laid-back guy, but when he gets on the field, he’s a leader,” Athanas said.
“He leads a lot by example with how he works hard in the weight room, on the field and off the field.”
“I really take (captainship) seriously,” Burnham said.
“My younger brother’s on the team, so I feel like I’ve got to show him the ropes a lot of the time and be a good example for him and everybody else. If need be, I’ll be vocal, but I just try to lead by example and hopefully that’s how I’ll be remembered by the time I leave.”
By the time he sits down for Thanksgiving dinner, Burnham’s time on Hyland Field will be over.
And, on paper, it currently appears that Burnham’s senior season won’t be remembered fondly by Hornets fans.
But he’s looking at the big picture.
While he wants to go out on a high note, it’s the relationships he’s built with his Hornets teammates that he’ll carrywith him.
“We’re like one huge family,” Burnham said. “You can tell the football players apart in school, everybody hangs out with each other. It’s different than any other sport, without a doubt.
“Just the camaraderie that’s created in the season, because it’s every single day you’re doing something. I just think you get really close with all the guys like that and it goes a long way. The biggest thing is the fact that you can’t really play too much football after high school,. Few people get to play after high school, so a lot of people figure that out that it’s going to end soon. You’ve only got four years.”
It appears that Burnham will be one of the lucky few that get four more years. His destination’s still undecided.
But if his future team hopes to harness the same success Burnham’s enjoyed with the Hornets, it best be sure to keep some peanut butter and jelly on hand.