CHICAGO — Lisa Burik said her football-playing son, Lewis, "fell in love with the game from day one."
That first day was as a fifth-grade player at Welles Park, and that passion for the sport has taken Lewis to a West Side Catholic high school, even though he's Jewish, and as a walk-on to one of the nation's top collegiate teams even though he might never play a down in an actual game.
"I'm undersized and probably under-athletic, but I love football and I love helping teams to win and grow and being part of a team that's successful," said Burik, a 5-foot-10 sophomore inside linebacker at Stanford, ranked seventh in the country. "That doesn't change from grammar school to high school to college."
Justin Breen talks about Lewis Burik's pursuit of football glory.
Through eighth grade, Burik, of Old Town, attended Latin School of Chicago — one of the city's elite private schools, but an institution that also doesn't have a football program. From fifth through eighth grades, he competed for the Welles Park Cowboys youth football program, first as a defensive lineman and then as a standout linebacker.
He was hooked, and the summer before starting freshman year, he chose to enroll at St. Ignatius College Prep instead of staying at Latin. Burik, who is Reform Jewish — his mom is Jewish and his father, David, is Catholic — and had a Bar Mitzvah, ironically chose St. Ignatius over public school Whitney Young because of the religious school's faith-based learning.
And, of course, football had a lot to do with it, too.
"There were a few other Jewish students, but I was obviously a needle in the haystack," Burik said. "I took a risk, but I loved going to Catholic school. It was very healthy for me to think about theology and God in an academic setting."
Burik took four years of mandatory religious studies courses, attended the once-a-month Mass at school and prayed with his football teammates at Mass before games.
"Lewis had to adapt to learn a foreign religion and as always he excelled," St. Ignatius football coach John O'Connor said.
O'Connor coached Burik as a senior, when he was All-Chicago Catholic League and recorded a team record 102 tackles in nine games.
Several schools offered Burik an opportunity to play football, but he was determined to play at Stanford because it was a lifelong dream. Lisa Burik is a Stanford alum, and Burik wanted to play Division I football at a top-tier program. Stanford was the only school he applied to, even though Princeton and a handful of Division III schools were interested in Burik playing football for them.
With the No. 7 Cardinal, who host arch-rival USC on Saturday night, Burik runs plays with the scout team, which prepares the first- and second-team players for gameday opponent's defense. Burik traveled with the team as a freshman to Northwestern last year, with his family — David Burik is a Northwestern alumnus — in attendance.
Burik's dream is to eventually get on the field in game action, but there's no rush.
"It's a lot of fun just being on a football team," he said. "It's football heaven here. When I go in practice and make a big play, everyone's very excited."
Burik is undeclared as a major, but is veering toward management science and engineering, which is something like a business major. He was an intern at a private equity firm in Palo Alto over the summer.
His career choice makes sense considering David Burik — a Sauganash native and Loyola Academy graduate — is managing director at Navigant Consulting. Lisa Burik was also in that line of work until 2009, when she opened Frankie's on the Park — a shopping destination for tweens that has stores in Lincoln Park and Lakeview.
David Burik said it's a bit of a mystery to him why his son loves football so much, but he thinks Lewis "enjoys the locker room, his teammates, the coaches, the hard work, the strategy and the collective pursuit."
For whatever reason, Burik said he just has never been ready to be done playing football.
"I wasn't ready after eighth grade, and four years later, after high school, I still wasn't ready," Burik said. "So here I am at Stanford."
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