Caleb Burke is accustomed to being a focal point of the opposition’s game-planning on Friday nights.
The talented Richland High School wide receiver/defensive back enables football fans to watch one of the state’s top playmakers each week he steps onto the field.
But the Rams senior realizes the spotlight on Southern Columbia’s Julian Fleming is glaring on an entirely different level.
“He’s very naturally blessed,” Burke said of Fleming, who is among a group of Division I recruits the District 4 Tigers (14-0) will bring to a PIAA Class AA semifinal playoff game against District 6 Richland (13-0) on Friday at Selinsgrove High School (7 p.m.).
“He’s 6-foot-2. A big, strong guy. I’m going to have to step up my game and do the little details more.”
The Ohio State commit is the top-rated senior prospect in the nation, according to ESPN recruiting rankings.
Fleming holds the Pennsylvania records for career touchdown receptions (75) and receiving yards (5,248) on a Southern Columbia team that has won the past two state championships and is looking to make a fifth consecutive appearance in the final.
The Tigers are ranked second in the nation among small schools and first in the state in Class AA. They’ve won three of the previous four state championship games while going 63-1 from 2015 to 2018.
“There is a reason he is the No. 1 rated guy in the country,” Richland coach Brandon Bailey said of Fleming. “He has the size, the strength, the athleticism. He plays every play hard.”
Fleming has 63 receptions for 1,306 yards and 20 touchdowns this season as the Tigers outscored opponents 763-48.
In the state quarterfinal round, Southern Columbia won its 46th consecutive game, 63-22 over Upper Dauphin.
Burke also is a NCAA Division I recruit who committed to the University of New Hampshire earlier this fall.
He has already played in a state championship game in basketball, as Richland finished as PIAA runner-up in 2018.
On the football field, Burke has 66 catches for 1,336 yards and 22 receiving touchdowns this season. In his career, Burke has 192 receptions for 3,347 yards and 42 TDs.
“I’m very excited,” said Burke, who like Fleming also plays defensive back. “It’s going to be an awesome opportunity for me. It’s going to be a big learning experience. I’ve never been able to play anybody like this.
“It will be awesome playing someone with the level of talent that he has.”
Southern Columbia has plenty of postseason experience, including a record nine state championships as well as 27 district crowns in the past 29 years.
Masseyratings.com gives Southern Columbia a 99% chance to win the game and predicted a 42-7 score.
“We’re going to fly around to the ball,” Burke said. “We’re not going to play any different than how we play every other team.
“The guys are ready to go. Nobody’s scared just because these guys are the No. 2 team in the nation. I think we’re ready to go, ready to roll.”
Bailey appreciates his senior leader’s mental approach.
“Caleb Burke is going to go down in history as one of the best two-sport athletes to ever come out of this area,” Bailey said. “He’s not just a great athlete, he’s a great teammate. It’s an exciting matchup for him to go up against the top-rated receiver in the country. Fleming also plays DB so those two are going to see a lot of each other all night long.”