Steven Burkhardt has heard it his whole life.
Growing up splitting time between football, basketball, baseball and track, he often heard about how fast his dad was back when he was at Gloucester City High School more than two decades prior.
Whether he was breaking through the defensive line for a long touchdown run or shagging fly balls in the outfield, it wasn’t strange for Burkhardt to, shortly afterwards, be reminded after showcasing such explosive footwork that he was showing some of the speed that his father once exhibited on the same fields.
“Growing up, I definitely heard that a lot,” Burkhardt said. “Everyone was quick to remind me, more so early on in high school, that I was fast, but not nearly as fast as my dad.”
Now a senior at Gloucester, Burkhardt has already cemented his own Lions’ legacy, following a historic 2021-’22 football season in which he led the state with 33 rushing touchdowns while racking up 2,034 rushing yards, good for the second most in the state. Those touchdowns tied the single-season school record, and helped lead the program to its first playoff victory since 2014 with a 21-14 victory over New Egypt in the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 1 sectional playoffs.
But after football season, Burkhardt set one more goal for himself to reach by the end of high school: to break his father’s 400-meter record in outdoor track.
“I had accomplished a lot during my high-school career, but I always knew that one thing I wanted to at least try to do was break my dad’s record,” he said.
Burkhardt ran outdoor track his freshman year before switching to baseball in anticipation of a sophomore season, one quickly lost due to the pandemic. He stuck with baseball his junior year – for which he was named to the first team in the Colonial Conference Patriot Division during his first season of play – before switching back to track for his senior year.
“What really helped me make that decision was, I didn’t want to play baseball again and in a couple years from now think to myself, ‘Damn, I really wish I would’ve tried for his record,’” Burkhardt said.
Although it’s still early in the outdoor season, the senior has already updated the program’s record books. During the Fast Times at Cherokee High meet on April 16, Burkhardt ran a 50.42 to win the event, while also breaking his father’s record for both a personal and program record.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, that’s for sure,” he said. “I could see the electronic timer getting closer to 50 seconds as I was going the last stretch towards the finish line. I was so close to just jumping over the finish line if that would make me break the line easier.
“It felt great to do it,” Burkhardt added. “I wasn’t sure what to expect coming into this season, but that was one of my goals, and it felt great to call him right afterwards to let him know I finally did it, because it’s something that we talked about a bunch and I know he was pushing for me to do it as well.”
Gloucester head track coach Nick Wright is in his second season with the program. After seeing some lower numbers than normal on both the boys and girls teams in the years leading to his arrival, Wright and the girls coach have tried to rebuild or jump start the programs.
Compared with their sizes at the end of last season, the boys and girls squads have doubled in just one year, a period that also brought some noticeable buzz to the program. That’s just what Wright and the other coaches hoped to do.
While one person doesn’t make a team, especially in track and field, Wright said the intensity and work ethic that Burkhardt has brought to the track in just the first few weeks of his final season with the team has been infectious.
“We’re putting a lot of energy into the program … and we have a level of seriousness and intensity that we want the program to have, and Steve has matched it,” Wright said. “If you come out and work as hard as you possibly can every single day, then you’re going to be the best version of yourself, and he really buys into that, as shown by what he did before this track season and what he’s still doing now.
“It’s hard to accurately describe how hard he really works to accomplish the things he’s accomplished,” the coach added.
Although Burkhardt broke his dad’s record in just his third 400-meter race of the season, he also has his eyes set on bigger things this year: He wants to go sub-50 seconds. Following the conclusion of the Fast Times at Cherokee High meet, Bukhardt’s 400-meter time ranked as the second fastest in the state. He had also broken the program’s 100-meter record earlier this year, in a dual meet with hand time and not FAT (fully automatic time).
Now Burkhardt and his coaches look forward to the senior breaking the record again in a weekend meet to get an official time. Regardless of records, Burkhardt’s biggest goal is to represent Gloucester this summer during postseason meets.
“I know it’s early on in the year but that 400 is the second fastest time in New Jersey so far, so that’s encouraging,” Burkhardt said. “My main goal now is to get ready to make a run at states.”