Family affair: North Kingstown, Rogers get ready for battle
Jamestown’s Alex Burke and his cousin Dylan Burke of Newport grew up playing baseball and football together. When North Kingstown and Rogers meet Friday at Toppa Field, the youths will play together again – but on opposite sides of the scrimmage line.
The two 17-year-old athletes – both captains for their respective teams – have played football all four years in high school, and have faced each other every year on the gridiron. But this game could be their last contest, barring a matchup in the Division-II playoffs.
Last year, the Vikings went 7-1 in league play during the regular season and won the Division- III state championship. Because of their performance, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League moved the team up a level. Meanwhile, North Kingstown went 0-8 in Division-I play, prompting the RIIL to reassign the school to Division II.
But whether or not a playoff meeting is in the cards, the players and family are looking forward to Friday’s showdown.
“Alex told me after the Pilgrim game that he is very excited to be playing against his cousin, and in front of out-of-state family who are coming to watch the game,” said Bill Piva, North Kingstown’s assistant coach. Piva is also the recreation director in Jamestown.
Family members are traveling to the game, including their paternal grandmother, Helen Burke, who is traveling some 1,300 miles to watch her grandchildren.
She’s hoping the score will end in a tie, she quipped in a telephone interview from Florida earlier this week.
“I guess that’s the answer she has to give,” Dylan said.
The Vikings defeated the Skippers last year, but this season could be a different story. Through three weeks, Rogers is 0-3 (0-2); North Kingstown, 2-1 (1-1).
“The team is doing a great job so far and working very hard to get better every practice and every game,” Piva said. “For instance, after last Saturday’s victory over a tough Pilgrim team, the players were in the weight room early Sunday morning. As a matter of fact, Alex was one of the first to arrive that morning.”
So far, the Skippers have racked up two impressive wins. In the season opener, North Kingstown mauled Coventry, 33-6. They go into Toppa Field coming off a 49- 14 game against Pilgrim.
This team’s goal is to make the playoffs, Alex said. “We’re sure hoping to make a run at the state championship.”
Meanwhile, Rogers has struggled. But Alex isn’t ruling them out. “I think their team is OK. They’re fast and physical.”
Said Dylan, “We try to play hard and fast and physical.”
Even though the Skippers started the season 2-1, according to Alex, they are still hungry for victories after enduring three losing seasons. North Kingstown wants to keep tasting victory and will have its work cut out with three difficult opponents in a row – first Rogers, then Cumberland and East Greenwich, who are both undefeated in league play.
Piva, like Alex, anticipates the Skippers will have their hands full with the Vikings.
“Rogers High School always has very good athletes and are well coached, so I expect a tough game,” he said. But he added the Skippers are not going to be pushovers. “I’m real proud of all the Jamestown players this year and expect the winning ways to continue.”
Over the past four years, Dylan and Rogers High have had the edge, Alex admitted.
The first two years, they faced each other in junior varsity games. In their junior years, the cousins moved up to varsity together.
Last year, Dylan played center. This year, he plays offensive tackle and defensive lineman. “He plays the whole game,” his father, Paul Burke, said.
Alex is playing quarterback for the Skippers this season, and he’s at that position for the first time. He said learning the offense gave the team “a little bit of trouble” at the beginning, but the Skippers are “getting into a groove.”
“It’s actually a somewhat complicated offense to run,” he said, “but it works.”
The new offense is a concept instituted by the team’s new head coach, Joe Gilmartin. “He’s awesome,” said Alex, who admitted that practices are more difficult, but the team is better prepared for games. The players have a lot more confidence, he says.
If Friday’s game turns out to be their last high school meeting, there’s always a chance the Burke cousins could face off again in college.
Dylan said he isn’t sure yet whether he’ll play a college sport. He’s looking at academic programs at the University of Rhode Island, Roger Williams University and Providence College, with an eye to becoming an engineer or a construction manager. He said he didn’t think beating the Skippers last year qualified as an upset even though North Kingstown was in Division I and Rogers played Division III.
He said the division level really shouldn’t matter. “It’s just a matter of going out and playing hard.”
(As of Wednesday, the game wasstilllistedwitha7p.m.kickoff, but the schools have been rescheduling night games to daytime due to the threat from eastern equine encephalitis. Fans are being asked to check the league’s website at www.riil.org for the latest updates.)