ST. LOUIS — Both Luther Burden Jr. and Gaye Union remember their son, Luther Burden III, playing around the campus of the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club.
Off the corner of Grand Boulevard and Dodier Street, known for being the location of the Gateway City’s former Major League Baseball stadium, Sportsman’s Park, for several decades, Burden played pee-wee football on the grounds where Rogers Hornsby and Dizzy Dean once captivated Cardinals fans.
There’s a plaque memorializing the history of Sportsman’s Park on the brick walls of the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club. Inside the venue’s gymnasium, the younger Burden committed to Missouri football on Tuesday evening, ending a two-month process of national speculation as to the wide receiver’s college destination.
Burden Jr. said only the smallest of an inner circle knew of his son’s decision before the reveal at 6:20 p.m. local time. Many had predictions or indications of the East St. Louis (Illinois) star’s decision. You could count on a few fingers those affirmatively in the know.
“He wanted to have this day,” Burden Jr. said of keeping his son’s choice tight-lipped.
Burden III was appreciative of all his family in attendance. He’s the only boy among 10 siblings. He’s got eight older sisters and one younger sister. He wears No. 3 to honor his family legacy and the nickname his dad gave him as a young child: “Tre.”
Burden Jr. wanted his son to be named after him, but have his own identity. No. 3 is currently vacant on Missouri’s offensive roster after Shawn Robinson switched to No. 12 with his change from quarterback to safety last season.
Notably outside that inner circle with prior knowledge of Burden’s decision to head to Columbia was Union, who quickly shouted, “That’s my son!” after he tossed the Alabama and Georgia hats to the floor and donned the black and gold Tigers cap.
“It means the world,” Union said of supporting her son. “I’m not nervous anymore. It’s a big relief and I think he (made) the right decision, picked the right school.
“… It was his decision and I didn’t want to pressure him. I wanted to ask him, but I knew he wouldn’t want to tell me. He told the whole world today.”
Burden started playing sports at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club at 7 years old, where he first received the moniker “Touchdown Luther.”
In the crowd for Burden’s ceremony Tuesday were several kids who now are around the age that Burden started playing football. They were wearing navy Hoover football jerseys, sitting in the bleachers, taking mental notes of how someone just like them made his dreams come true.
“I’m so proud of him. I held back the tears because I didn’t want to let him see me crying,” Burden Jr. said minutes after his son declared for MU. “… I just want to run around the gym and just start jumping, but I’m trying to hold my composure.”
The No. 5 overall prospect in the Class of 2022, per the 247Sports Composite, which elevated him one spot in the last day, chose to become a Tiger over his other final three choices of Georgia and Alabama. Burden was previously verbally committed to Oklahoma from October 2020 to this August.
Burden’s final visit before his decision was to Georgia last weekend. Burden Jr. said when he and his son got off the return flight to St. Louis, at Lambert International Airport, there were people waiting outside security for him to sign autographs.
That moment shocked Burden Jr., but his son took it in stride and inked his name on helmets and other memorabilia.
Beating out three programs that have a combined 11 appearances in the College Football Playoff since 2014 to the region’s premier prospect is a flag-planting moment for Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz, right into the heart of St. Louis.
“I love coach Drink. I love him,” Union said. “I met him to do a visit. Why I love him is he’s so funny. Every little thing he said, I laughed at it. We had eye-to-eye contact. I love him.”
Union said she also loved how Drinkwitz built a relationship with her son and made sure to spend time with the entire Burden family.
Drinkwitz isn’t allowed to talk about specific recruits until they’ve signed binding paperwork with the school, per NCAA rules. But Missouri’s head coach can speak to the importance of having the best from the St. Louis area head west to MU.
“Last week versus Texas A&M, (they had) a young man (Antonio Johnson) who played extremely well and had an interception against us,” Drinkwitz said Wednesday. “He’s a tremendous player and is from East St. Louis. In order for us to get to where we want to be, we need to have those players continue to come play for us. That’s been an emphasis for our staff, and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
Burden is the highest-rated football player from the St. Louis area ever on the 247Sports Composite. There have been five-stars like MU alum Terry Beckner Jr. and current Buffalo Bill A.J. Epenesa, but none have had a higher rating than Burden.
Burden’s rating of 0.9966 (1 is the maximum) places him in a tie for 140th all-time. 247Sports’ recruiting rankings date back to 1999.
Despite the enormity of Burden’s decision, he is focused on what’s in front of him, stating he’s locked in with the Tigers and he’ll enroll early at MU in January.
“This is the dream that I dreamed a long time ago,” Union said.
Contact Eric Blum at [email protected]. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.
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