Ex-Prep star Burt reflects on Patriots tenure, top CFL Draft selection

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May 7—As a member of the New England Patriots practice squad last season, Jake Burt never appeared in an actual NFL game. The team opted not to re-sign him following the season, sending Burt into free agency — where he had trouble finding a new home.

But despite the small misfortunes, the former St. John's Prep standout took nothing but positives from his experience in New England and has used his time there as a stepping stone for his next big test: the Canadian Football League (CFL).

On Tuesday evening, all of Burt's hard work and dedication paid off as he was selected first overall in the CFL draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It's a perfect fit for both Burt, who was born in Canada before moving to Boston when he was four years old, and his family, much of which still resides north of the border.

"Basically my contract with New England expired after this season; I wasn't cut, but they didn't re-sign me. So I became a free agent at the end of the year," explained Burt. "The free agent market was pretty dry and I had kind of been thinking about the CFL from past years, knowing that it was an option for me. I'm a Canadian citizen, too, so it was easy to get eligible.

"After a month or two of not signing to a new NFL team, I sat down with my parents and we just made the decision that the CFL could be a great thing for my career and my life in general just living in a different country," he added. "I'm 24 years old and now have the opportunity to play football in the country I was born in. It's an unbelievable opportunity and we're all extremely excited."

Making it into the CFL is one thing, but to do so as this year's top draft choice is something Burt certainly isn't taking for granted. He says his game has never been in a better spot, and he's eager to dive into the new system when he heads to Canada this summer.

"As I got closer to draft night things really started picking up and I was getting the feeling that my name was pretty hot," said Burt. "So to get the call from Coach O (Orlondo Steinauer) and see it live on TV was an amazing experience; I can't really describe it. There was just so much adrenaline and excitement it's hard to wrap my mind around it. I mean, how many people can say they went No. 1 in any draft?"

A once in a lifetime experience

Burt is undoubtedly ecstatic to be joining the CFL — and to do so for a Hamilton team that had much success in 2019, going 15-3 and finishing first in the East Division. But before he heads North, Burt made sure to take some time to reflect on his experience in New England under the tutelage of superb football minds Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.

It was with the Patriots where Burt honed his skills as a polished route runner and pass catcher. His speed and athleticism, especially considering his size (6-foot-3, 245 lbs.), are two qualities he plans to put on full display for his new team.

"Starting at Boston College (where Burt played for four years), that was the foundation. Then at New England under one of the most brilliant football minds in coach Belichick, just being able to be around him every day and listen to him talk about football was incredible," said Burt. "His football IQ is like nothing I've ever seen and he was able to improve mine dramatically. I learned so much about the game and developed so much as a player there that I feel I'm at the peak of my play now. I'm very appreciative of my time there and it's an experience I'll never forget."

While Belichick certainly aided his growth in more ways than one, Burt credited McDaniels for his improved route running and aggressiveness offensively.

"He just developed me so much in that department that it's a very good part of my game now," said Burt, who primarily served as a blocking tight end during his time at BC until his senior year when he caught 15 passes for 212 yards and a touchdown.

"Just going up and catching the ball in traffic, being able to run by people and make good routes ... that's something not a lot of people know about me and I was really able to put that on display in New England. I was always super athletic in high school, playing football, basketball and volleyball, and that's about to come to the forefront in Canada."

A change in scenery

Burt may have lived in Canada for four short years growing up (he was born in Regina Saskatchewan), but he admits that he doesn't remember much from his time there. His parents now reside in the states, but plan to attend as many games as possible while he's there. In addition, much of his extended family currently lives in the surrounding areas of Hamilton.

"I don't remember anything," he said. "But that's also why it can be so cool for me to get to experience the culture there for the first time. It will be extremely unique and I'm very grateful to have this opportunity to go and do that. If I wasn't playing football it would be very hard to make it out there and live there, so this is the perfect opportunity."

Burt has family in such provinces such as Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and British Columbia, and feels extremely blessed to be given the chance to compete in front of them.

"They're all kind of scattered throughout the country so it'll be awesome to play in their city and they can come out and watch me play for the first time in their lives," said Burt. "To have their grandson, nephew or whatever have you now playing in their home will be unbelievable."

The CFL season has plans to officially kick off this August, although a final schedule has yet to be released. Burt hopes to be up there and settled in by early July and has already began the process of looking for a new home. His younger brother, Declan, may even come out there and live with him.