Friday Night Drive’s 2021 Offensive Player of the Year: Luther Burden III

East St. Louis' Luther Burden III powers his way through the front line against Crete-Monee in the Class 6A semifinal game at Crete-Money High School. Saturday, Nov.20, 2021 in Crete.

Luther Burden III had one goal before his senior season: be the best.

The East St. Louis wide receiver had a lot of national hype before the start of this past season, but Burden got rid of those distractions and focused on being a leader for his team and becoming the best player in the nation.

Burden lived up to his goal, earning his status as one of the nation’s top high school recruits, leading his team to the Class 6A state title game and winning Friday Night Drive’s Offensive Player of the Year honor.

“I felt like I grew each and every game from the start of the season to the end,” Burden said. “Mentally, I grew a lot, honestly. Just being out there, playing the way I play. I definitely think I grew personally.”

Burden and the Flyers didn’t have much of a break during the 2021 calendar year. After finishing the spring season 5-1, the Flyers got back to work a couple weeks later in preparation for the fall. That didn’t bother Burden, who was excited to play as many games as he could this year.

The wide receiver earned a first team Team of the Year honor from Friday Night Drive after an impressive spring and Burden continued his strong play into the fall. The Flyer finished with 1,280 yards on 77 receptions, scoring 22 touchdowns. Burden caught two touchdowns and finished with 106 yards on six catches in the state title game.

For Burden, everything starts after he makes the catch. Once he gets the ball, he tries to be elusive and create something out of nothing. His yards after a catch have been what’s impressed college coaches across the nation and his play is what makes him one of the most dynamic players in the country.

“I feel like when I get the ball, I just try to get into the end zone, I’m just trying to score, that’s why my name is ‘Touchdown Luther,’” Burden said. “When I get the ball, it’s exciting to watch.”

That excitement is the reason why coaches from the top colleges offered the wide receiver. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma were among the schools who offered Burden a scholarship. He committed to Oklahoma In October 2020 but decommitted from the Sooners in August before he committed to Missouri in October.

While Burden thought he did a good job of balancing his recruitment and his football season, he did think it was a relief to be committed and not having college coaches constantly reaching out.

After signing his letter of intent on Wednesday, he’s looking forward to going off to Columbia, where he’ll have some familiar faces.

“I’m really excited,” Burden said. “Bonding with the new guys coming in and seeing the guys that I know up there from St. Louis. It’s special playing with people you grew up with in college.”

Now Burden will have something he’s never had before: an offseason. The senior has always played basketball, so the two-sport athlete always competed and didn’t have time to focus on working specifically on football.

He’s achieved so much as an athlete without ever getting a chance to focus on one sport. Now with a chance to grow this offseason, Burden is looking forward to working out this offseason and seeing what level he can elevate his game.

“I feel like it’s scary, honestly, with me being able to focus on one sport,” Burden said. “I feel like it’s going to get really ugly.”

The East St. Louis loss to Cary-Grove in the state title hasn’t subsided for Burden. While he’s proud of the work his team put together this season to get to that point, there’s still pain that he hopes the younger players will use to win another state title.

Burden is left to reflect on a season where he worked hard to achieve his goal of being the best player in the nation. While he wishes he could’ve helped his team win a state title, he’s proud of the way he grew this past season and achieved his goal he set before the start of the season.

“I feel like I separated myself from a lot of people in the country,” Burden said. “I definitely think I achieved that goal of being the best player in the country.”