Cam Burden has always put the team first.
He never had any desire to play quarterback, but he did during his two years at Sevier County High School because it gave the Smoky Bears their best chance at winning.
Following an offseason transfer to Alcoa High, the rising junior is slotted as a wide receiver, strong safety and punt returner — a trio of skill positions that he always envisioned himself playing, though he never directly stated it.
“They were asking me what position I wanted to play, and I said whatever was best for the team,” Burden told The Daily Times. “… They’re good at quarterback, and I’ve never really wanted to play quarterback.”
“We’re based on having a team — we really stay away from individuals who demand getting the ball,” Alcoa head football coach Gary Rankin added. “We’ve got a lot of good guys who understand the importance of being a good teammate, and Cam is certainly that kind of guy.
“He’s a very intelligent kid and very mature kid. We’re excited about having him because he can certainly play for us and probably play for just about anybody.”
Burden could have been viewed as the heir apparent to four-time state champion and 2018 Class 3A Tennessee Titans Mr. Football winner Walker Russell, but instead he will join Division-I prospect Isiah Cox on the perimeter. The Tornadoes may also utilize him in different Wildcat packages.
“It’s up to us, whether it be in the weight room or on the practice field (to see how good we can be as a receiver’s group),” Burden said. “That’s all in our minds. We’re good across the board, and I think our group can be one of the best that has ever gone through there.”
However, his greatest value may be on the side of the ball he’s not known for playing.
His size — 6-foot-2, 190 pounds — and athleticism make him a potential difference maker in the back end of an already stout defense. Alcoa allowed 6.7 points per game last season en route to its fourth consecutive Class 3A BlueCross Bowl championship.
Those physical traits are bolstered by two years of reading coverages from under center and understanding the best ways to manipulate a quarterback.
“As a quarterback, you know what the safeties are doing, so when you’re playing safety you know what the quarterback is looking for,” Burden said. “You have to trick the quarterback into thinking you’re rolling into this coverage, but you’re actually going into another one.”
It’s one of the many traits Burden is bringing to Alcoa as it hunts its fifth consecutive state title, an accomplishment he is hoping to achieve after winning a combined eight games over the past two years at Sevier County.
“Alcoa has won four straight state championships, and I’m ready to get one because I’m tired of losing,” Burden said. “They have great coaches, great players and that’s going to make me a better player because, at every position, the person behind you is as good or better.”