Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Heartfelt homecoming: Burkhead thankful for Plano, Metroplex support at fundraiser

Plano Senior alum Rex Burkhead returned to his alma mater on Saturday to host the Team Jack Trifecta, a fundraiser to help raise money for research on pediatric brain cancer.

By Matt Welch
April 4, 2017

Be it on the football field or the basketball court, Plano Senior alum Rex Burkhead saw plenty of large crowds during his four years as a Wildcat.

On Saturday, that same fanfare was palpable on the campus of the city’s oldest high school, only instead of spectating, the Plano community was there to join Burkhead in his latest endeavor to raise awareness about pediatric brain cancer.

That came about through the Team Jack Trifecta, a three-sport fundraiser hosted by Burkhead on behalf of the Team Jack Foundation, which is dedicated to raising money for research on children’s cancers.

The event consisted of a 5K fun run around the Plano campus on Saturday morning, followed by a youth football camp and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. Between the three sports, the Team Jack Foundation said approximately $35,000 was raised towards research for pediatric brain cancer.

“This means a lot. It means the world to me to see the Plano community come out and support this cause,” Burkhead said. “It’s something that started in Nebraska and to bring it down to Texas and see so many people from the community – people I went to high school with and people who just wanted to rally around the cause – it really means a lot to me.”

The undertaking of this type of fundraiser was an entirely new experience for Burkhead, most notably in being able to bring the event to his hometown. He had plenty of help along the way, including a mix of fellow PISD alumni and gridiron veterans on hand to help as coaches during the event’s youth football camp.

That cast included Plano alums Carson Meger and Collin Brence, to Plano West alums Jackson Jeffcoat and Ameen Behbahani, to Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah, who all helped a camp of more than 50 kids through two hours of football fundamentals.

“It was awesome. I think the coaches enjoyed it and I know the campers enjoyed it,” Burkhead said. “They had a great time and I already had some asking if we were going to do it again next year. That got me excited.”

Although the Team Jack Trifecta provided plenty of opportunities to learn and compete, an early-afternoon presentation inside the Plano Senior gymnasium evoked the message of Saturday’s cause.

There, Burkhead and Team Jack Foundation board chair and co-founder Andy Hoffman addressed the crowd on the foundation’s mission. That message that was later driven home after recognizing a few kids who had previously encountered some form of childhood cancer: Sim Scott, Ian Ramsey, Miles Dagelwicz and Team Jack namesake Jack Hoffman. Several of those kids were in attendance, including Scott, a 14-year-old Plano resident and brain tumor survivor who delivered an emotional speech about living with a brain tumor and the importance of raising money for research.

“That makes it even heavier and makes people who come to these events realize that they’re here for competition and great prizes, but they’re all here to support this cause,” Burkhead said. “It lets them know where their donations went and puts that in perspective.”

The fundraiser was the latest highlight in what has been a busy offseason for Burkhead, who took the next step in his NFL career in mid-March by signing a one-year, $3.15 million deal to play for the five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Burkhead had spent the first four years of his pro career with the Bengals, who drafted the running back in the sixth round in 2013. During his time in Cincinnati, Burkhead logged 87 rushes for 375 yards and three touchdowns plus 34 receptions for 288 yards and one touchdown. The former Plano star capped his Bengals career on a high note, rushing for 119 yards in a Week 17 spot start last season.

Prior to signing with New England, Burkhead visited the Atlanta Falcons – the other half of Super Bowl LI – before opting to sign with the Patriots.

“They have a no-nonsense approach and you see that with how much they win,” Burkhead said. “Everybody in that organization, from [head coach Bill] Belichick to one of if not the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady), the whole package there is something that I really wanted to be a part of.”

Deployed at both running back and receiver throughout his Cincinnati tenure, Burkhead's versatile skill set is one the Patriots have traditionally coveted with their running backs. New England was clearly high on Burkhead as well, making him the franchise’s highest-paid running back since Fred Taylor in 2010.

“Hopefully I can earn a role and whether it’s split out wide or in the backfield, I want to be that multi-dimensional guy they can use,” Burkhead said. “And if that’s on special teams too, I’ll be more than happy with that.

“They use their guys in so many different ways, so whatever I can do to help them win some games.”

The first chapter of Burkhead’s tenure with the Patriots begins April 17 when he reports for offseason training activities.

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