By Jesse Smithey
Sevier County rising sophomore quarterback Cam Burden impressed even his head coach on Thursday morning with how he threw the football.
And the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder made football look incredibly easy at times during his freshman season last fall.
Remember the South-Doyle game midway through the regular season? Burden won a slew of player-of-the-week awards for that performance: 232 yards passing and two TDs, 173 yards rushing and a score.
He wound up being Region 2-5A Newcomer of the Year, throwing for 1,830 yards and 13 touchdowns while rushing for 676 yards. He also made more than 80 tackles while contributing in the secondary, and the Smoky Bears reached the second round of the 5A playoffs.
But not all was rosy. He made newcomer mistakes, too, during Sevier County’s 6-6 campaign. But his spring and summer preparations all point toward improvement and maturation at the position — one he wasn’t necessarily set on playing when coming to high school. The 6-foot-2 Burden thought he’d be a wideout and strong safety.
“As a first-year starting quarterback, you’re going to have a lot of ups and downs,” said Sevier County coach Tony Linginfelter. “And he had that last year. He had some outstanding games. And then, some nights, he’d force the ball or make the wrong read or try to do too much.
“But he is making progress. Working hard. Trying to work on his footwork. I think most of his bad throws — like anybody, no matter what level you get to as quarterback— come from not having his feet set. But he’s really smart, and I think he’s going to be a really good one.”
Burden turned out to be the missing puzzle piece Sevier County needed to right the ship. The Smoky Bears reached the state championship in 2015 with quarterback Deuce Wallace but went 3-7 the following season after Wallace and bevy of talented players graduated.
Burden is no carbon copy of Wallace, who leaned more towards productivity through the air with an occasional run mixed in here and there. Burden can do both in big ways. Sevier County will have almost all its receiving corps back this fall but has slightly tweaked its offense to better suit Burden’s running ability, too.
“I definitely think there’s a whole lot for me to get better at. When I look back on last season,” Burden said Thursday night, “I see how slow my feet were and how my progressions weren’t as good. I feel like that now that I’m getting older and more used to the game, it’s starting to kick in now.
“Most of it’s just on me now, getting my mechanics right and getting the ball out there.”
Moreover, assistant coach Angelo Raga has returned to the staff after a two-year break and will develop Burden further. And that has Burden ecstatic. “He’s such a great guy. I’ve known him forever,” Burden said.
Burden’s father, P.J., coaches the defensive backs at Sevier County, where he was the defensive MVP of the 1999 Class 5A championship team. Having to know what a quarterback sees and what a defensive back sees is expediting Burden’s knowledge as a quarterback.
(Editor’s note: Here’s Burden’s freshman Hudl film. Story continues below.)
Sevier County opens its season Aug. 17 against visiting Jefferson County and will also have non-region tilts with Oak Ridge and Dobyns-Bennett this fall.
Sevier County returns roughly seven or eight starters on both sides of the ball. Receivers returning are third-year starters Brayden Hurst and Colin Russell, as well as experienced pass-catchers in Chase Smith, Tyler Wilson and Garrett Adams. They should be Burden’s go-to guys on the perimeter, and that chemistry will be on display soon in 7-on-7 action locally July 12 at Rocky Top Sports World in Gatlinburg.
Burden started on the basketball team, too, for Sevier County. So his offseason weight program didn’t hit full stride until the spring. He has “filled out some,” Linginfelter said about Burden’s physical stature.
But for now, Burden will continue to grow mentally and through experience during offseason camps and throwing sessions. He’s attending a Furman camp this weekend, will throw against a West Virginia team on June 20 and then travel to Dorman (S.C.) on July 10 for a 7-on-7 camp.
“The only thing I talked about with Cam (after last season) is getting better at practice. He got better at that as the season went along,” said Linginfelter. “He’s a guy who’s really athletic and could show up on game day and out-athlete people. But he got better at being a better practice guy and being more focused on the little things.
“He’s doing that.”