Tyler Burge was born to play Buford football.
A two-year starter at center for the Wolves on the offensive line, Burge was born into a family that has spent most of its history in the city. Both his grandmother and great-grandmother played basketball at the high school. His dad, Ken, was a member of the football team from 1980-83.
“He bleeds green,” coach Jess Simpson said, putting it simply.
That might be an understatement.
Ken Burge took his son to his first Buford game when he was barely a month old. He was the team’s waterboy starting at seven years old and was promoted to ball boy just a few years after that.
The tradition of Buford athletics has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember.
“My grandmother — she’s 70-something years old, and she hasn’t missed a game since I was six,” Burge said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s baseball, basketball, football and freezing outside. Every single one of my family, my uncles, it doesn’t matter. They’re out there. That’s what’s special about it. Just knowing you’ve got your own little fan club.”
Even more special is the place Burge and his teammates will have in Buford’s rich athletic history.
Playing in his final playoffs with the team, Burge has been a part of three state champions, and has a chance at a fourth. The Wolves play Carver High in Columbus in the Class AA semifinals on Friday. A victory would put them one win away from their fifth consecutive state championship.
Burge said that it was special to be a part of such a great run for a team that he grew up watching as a kid.
“A lot of people come to Buford and see all the trophies and stuff, and they think it should just come to them,” Burge said. “But guys like us who have followed it the whole time, we know what it takes. And it rubs off on the new guys quickly, too. You’re not just fighting for each other, you’re fighting for the history of Buford football.”
It’s a history Ken Burge knows well, one which he has actively participated in for years. He is the eighth grade coach in the Gwinnett Football League and has watched a small portion of the current Buford roster grow up in the sport.
“It’s special just to watch this group of kids,” Ken said. “It’s unreal. I knew they were going to be special when they got to Buford. I told them when they were younger they would win a state championship. After their second one, they told me that I lied to them. They won more than one.”
Both Ken and Tyler, as well as Simpson, all indicated there was something more to Buford football than in a lot of places.
“It’s just their grit and their love for Buford football,” Ken said. “That’s what people don’t understand. They don’t understand what it’s about. It’s different here.”
Simpson said that this period for Buford is likely something that everyone, especially a guy like Burge, would remember forever.
“I’m sure that when he looks back at 30 and 40 and 50 years old, to realize that you were a part of that run in Buford football, that’s got to be special,” Simpson said. “(Burge) has been here forever. They put him in a Buford sweatshirt when he was two years old, so it’s got to be special.”
Burge isn’t the only member of his family to experience a state championship. His sister, Kayla, won two titles as a member of the girls basketball team.
Ken said that he’s enjoyed every moment for both of them.“I’ve enjoyed watching them both get their championships,” he said. “There’s a lot of us around Buford period. We’re just so proud of it as a community.”
For Burge, simply being a part of this chapter in the team’s history has meant a lot to him.
“I was born here in Buford, I’ve grown up here my entire life,” he said. “I remember going in 2000 when we lost to Commerce twice, and then the next year when we won the state championship. It’s just special to be around it.”
He chose his next words carefully.
“Seeing the first championship was great,” Burge said. “And now we’re about to break — if we keep playing like we are, I mean — you know, we could break a pretty big record.”