TORONTO — In his 24 years on this planet, Jake Burt has had his share of challenging moments.
He went through the college recruiting process in his hometown of Boston, eventually choosing to stay local with Boston College. Last year he navigated the undrafted free agent process in the NFL and was able to again stay home when he signed with the New England Patriots.
On May 4, Burt found himself in a football situation that he’d never faced before. He knew he was going to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the first overall pick in the CFL Draft, but he couldn’t tell his family.
“I was back and forth with a lot of teams in the last week then Hamilton came in and told me the night before they were going take me,” Burt told Donnovan Bennett on this week’s edition of The Waggle.
“I signed the contract the morning of, got the call from Coach O (Orlondo Steinauer) about 10 minutes before the pick was made. Seeing it on TV was the first time it felt real. Even though I’d already signed the contract, to get the call and have it announced by the commissioner, it felt amazing. It was an incredible moment in my life and I’ll never forget it.”
The hardest part of that process was keeping the news from his family. Burt was a late entrant into the CFL Draft pool and while there was talk of him going early in the Draft, no one thought he might be the first name called.
“It was 6:50 when I was supposed to get the call. My parents are scrambling, trying to get everything ready. I knew it was coming, so I go and sit down in my living room…and my mom’s like, ’It doesn’t start for 10 more minutes.’
“Then the phone started ringing, I let it ring so everyone would hear it. It was extremely exciting. I felt like I was going out for kickoff.”
If you’ve followed the draft at all, you’ve heard how eager and enthusiastic Burt is about the opportunity that awaits him in Hamilton. Having played tight end at Boston College and through last season on the Patriots’ practice roster, the six-foot-five, 230-pounder heads to a Ticats team that loves to get creative and dynamic on the offensive end, under the watch of offensive coordinator Tommy Condell.
“My whole career I’ve been playing almost up a weight class. I’m probably naturally more to the 230, 240 side, and I’ve played my whole career around 248 to 250. I spent this past year with the Pats at 245. It’s not my natural weight,” Burt said.
“I’m doing a lot of things, nutrition-wise, which is a whole other aspect that I added after getting hurt in college. Just doing so much nutrition-wise to keep this weight on. It’s not that I’m not explosive with the weight but imagine now that I’m able to take that weight off. It’s like I’ve had a 20-pound weight vest on the last few years.
“I’ve been 235 in college and had no problem blocking at that weight. If I can trim down and run faster and be more explosive…and I can still more than get the job done in the run game that’s the opportunity the CFL provides me.
“I’ll be able to play at a more natural weight and you’ll be able to see a lot more explosiveness out of me, a lot more speed and being able to show that speed on the field. I’ve been working on the waggle in my route running and I feel like it’ll put defenders on their heels.”
With family spread across the country, from BC to St. John’s, Newfoundland, Burt will have plenty of support when he makes his way back to the country he was born in. He won’t be suiting up in his birthplace of Regina, but the message he’s had for his family that may already have preexisting allegiances is a simple one.
“Like I told my grandmother, if you’re not going to get on board with becoming a Tiger-Cat fan, you’re going to get used to losing, a lot,” he said. His grandmother, in his birthplace of Regina, is a Riders fan.
“What I’m bringing to Hamilton is an extremely hard work ethic. I’m going to do everything I can on and off the field to best represent Hamilton the best way I can. There are many things that go into that. It starts on the field but also off the field in the community and just helping out and building the whole city of Hamilton toward a greater goal.
“On the field, I‘m bringing an explosive athleticism, speed, playmaking ability…just a whole new tight end twist position to this league and I’m hoping I can make a really big impact here.”
Burt’s exchange with Bennett’s father-in-law — a die hard Ticats fan that’s starving for a Grey Cup win for his team — is a must-listen in this episode and sits at the 18-minute mark.
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