East Carolina recruit Curtis Burston was a spectator for Middle Creeks first eight games this season.
After suffering a broken bone in his foot, the fifth metatarsal, in the final scrimmage before the season began, Burston watched while on crutches, and later in a walking boot, as the Mustangs went 6-2.
After waiting almost his entire senior season for his foot to heal, Burston wasted no time in re-establishing himself as the Mustangs go-to receiver. He has caught at least one touchdown pass in every game since joining the lineup.
His first catch of the season was a 45-yard touchdown against Athens Drive on Oct. 25. On Nov. 8 against Fuquay-Varina, he had five catches for four touchdowns and 100 yards receiving.
Against Garner last week in the third round of the 4AA playoffs, he caught eight passes for 127 yards and a touchdown.
With everything I went through with my injury, Im going to do everything I can to make sure our season doesnt end short, Burston said.
Middle Creek had been moving the ball well through the air all season, but Burstons return has made it more lethal in time for the Mustangs first appearance in the N.C. High School Athletic Association East final.
Mustangs quarterback Brant Grisel has 3,104 yards passing, but Burston has caught 10 of Grisels 32 passing touchdowns in just six weeks.
It makes us a lot different, Middle Creek coach Mike Castellano said. We learned through some adversity how to win without him. Adding him back into the mix just made us that much better of an offense. I think it helped Brant also expand his learning curve.
Middle Creek has gone from a team that can move the ball with its bevy of talented receivers Jay Schuller (1,092 yards, 10 TDs), Keon Smith (563 yards, 5 TDs), Deante McDonald (297 yards, 2 TDs) and Rasheem Eaton (228 yards, 3 TDs) to one that scores with them, too.
Ive always been able to find the end zone, ever since my sophomore year, said Burston, a three-year starter. Im just doing the plays that my offensive coordinator calls and it works out perfect for me to get to the end zone.
Burston has the size at 6-foot-1 and 218 pounds to be a match-up problem, whether hes catching a tunnel screen or a go route.
I feel like I can do it all. I might be big, but Im not the slowest guy on the field at all. I can make the catch wherever I need to, Burston said. I can break tackles and do anything I can set my mind to.
The Mustangs, on the doorstep of their first championship appearance in program history, will certainly look to Burston when they play Wake Forest on Friday.
Over the last three years, Middle Creek is 14-1 when Burston catches a touchdown pass.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps