Isaiah Burse produced an incredible body of work with his arms and legs while leading Modesto Christian's football team to one of the most impressive seasons in state history, as the Crusaders tied a California record by going 15-0.
There was one play, however, that answered the question of whether the 6-foot, 180-pounder was a running back masquerading as a quarterback, or a quarterback doubling as a running back.
In the CIF Small School Bowl, the Crusaders took possession on the Francis Parker 29 yard-line just moments after MC's defense had stopped a fourth-and-short play. Burse took the snap and dropped back, zipping a pass 40 yards to cousin Kevin Roya for the touchdown that sparked the Crusaders' 44-40 victory and a state title.
There was no margin for error. Roya was lined up on the right side and raced downfield with the cornerback on his outside shoulder and the safety running on his inside. The ball arrived just as Roya approached the back of the end zone, and sailed through a quickly closing window -- a moment before defenders arrived from both sides.
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It might have been the prettiest pass in any of the bowl games at Carson, given its importance and the tight coverage. It displayed the ability and confidence of Burse, a four-year starter who evolved into an all-around quarterback his senior season.
The play also sealed Burse's selection as The Bee's Stanislaus District Player of the Year. Sierra running back Jarrod Daniels, Downey receiver Javon Kelly and Central Catholic quarterback Dylan Swartz were the other finalists.
Burse, among the most feared players in the district before the season began, enhanced his reputation each time he took the field. He passed for 1,771 yards and was the district's top rusher with 1,826 yards. He had a hand in 57 touchdowns -- and he also made 90 tackles, had seven sacks, intercepted five passes and had a 35-yard average on punts.
He saved his best for last, though, tearing up the competition in the playoffs.
Burse ran for 917 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 10 yards per carry, and passed for 681 yards and 10 scores in five postseason games. He completed 58 percent of his playoff passes, averaging 22 yards a completion and a score every three throws.
"The big change from last year, I think, is the confidence I have out there," Burse said following the win over Parker. "If I see Kevin or Ray (Nelson), I know just where they're going to end up and I'll put the ball there. I might have hesitated on some passes a year ago, but I'm seeing the play develop this season and I'm letting the ball go."
He is being heavily recruited by Nevada and Fresno State, among others, and both can see Burse playing receiver and occasionally taking snaps from center in a Wildcat formation. That's essentially what he did at MC, taking all his snaps from the shotgun and then deciding whether to hand off, pass or run.
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It was a memorable season for Burse, who suffered a late-season injury as a junior and was ineffective in a first-round rout at the hands of Hilmar. Nothing slowed him this year, as he led the Crusaders to a staggering 49 points a game -- they scored at least 40 in every playoff game and averaged 52 in the postseason.
Burse rushed for 100 or more yards in nine games, including at least 135 yards in each playoff game, and passed for at least 100 yards in nine games. As a rusher, his best effort was 23 carries for 259 yards and two scores to beat Central Catholic 40-21 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 4 semifinal. His top passing performance was 7 of 9 for 196 yards and two scores in a 61-40 win over Placer for the section crown.
Making it more impressive is that Burse never took a break. If the game was in doubt, Burse was on the field -- passing, running, returning kicks or attacking foes from his outside linebacker position. He had eight tackles in the state final and Parker quarterback Deon Randall cited Burse's presence as the reason he elected to use the backup play on fourth-and-goal at the MC 2 in the final minutes of the game.
Randall was confident he could get away from any of the Crusaders, expect for the dynamic Burse. That's why Randall checked out of a QB draw -- which would have sent him into the arms of Burse -- and threw an ill-fated pass that lost yardage.
"The (Trans-Valley League) has never seen a player like Burse," said Escalon's Mark Loureiro, the district's winningest coach this decade. "He could be the MVP, the offensive player of the year and the defensive player of the year. He's that good."