If you haven’t figured it out by now, the junior guard, one of the Gamecocks’ two most experienced linemen, is as much a political animal as he is a beast on the football field.
“It’s in my blood,” he said.
Two generations’ worth right now.
His grandmother, Priscilla Dunn, is a second-term state senator (D-19) with more than 20 years of experience in the state legislature. His grandfather, Grover Dunn, a former high school football coach, has been a Bessemer city councilman and deputy probate judge of Jefferson County and is currently the county’s assistant tax collector. His mother, Karen Dunn Burks, is circuit clerk for the Bessemer Division. His father, Eric, works for the tax collectors' office in Birmingham.
The family political tradition makes for some interesting – and heated – discussions around the television at family gatherings.
“We talk about everything. It’s like CNN on TV, really,” Burks said. “It can get intense, especially when they talk about the other side, how they respond to it.
“When they group together, it’s like they’re talking against the TV, which is kind of interesting to me, because they’ll say something, then they’ll disagree with the TV like it’s going to talk back. I just laugh. I learn so much from both sides.”
He tries to insert himself in the conversations, but added he doesn't having much luck tilting it in his direction. In those cases, he just retreats and listens, waiting for the next opportunity to join the debate.
“There’s no way you can keep up with my family,” he said. “They have such an advanced look on everything. It’s amazing.”
Burks’ mother, however, doesn’t think her son should sell himself short. She welcomes the youthful perspective he brings to the discourse.
“It’s not that he disagrees,” Karen Dunn Burks said, “but he adds a different insight to it.”
Burks has “definitely thought” about carrying on the family tradition of running for public office, especially during the times his family jokes about him taking over when they retire. With a little more seasoning, he would consider throwing his hat into the ring.
Ask which office he’d consider and he becomes a political opportunist.
“The best office available that I think I could win around where I’m from,” he said.
Burks isn’t politically involved now, but he already has enjoyed some success at the polls. He ran for office twice at Hoover High School – and won both times, claiming chapter presidencies of both the FCA and Future Business Leaders of America. He did have the backing of a powerful political family during the FBLA race.
“He tried to buy me buttons and little signs and everything,” Burks said of his grandfather. “I was like, ‘PawPaw, I don’t think it’s that strong.’ He was like we’re going all out for this one.”
His mother believes Blake would make a fine political candidate and, given his outgoing personality, a strong grassroots campaigner. After all, he got a taste of the trail at an early age, handing out ballots and fliers during his grandparents’ campaigns.
“I would love to see Blake run,” his mother said. “We would be great to have in any office because we could do nothing but benefit from him. Not only from his insight – he has years beyond his age – but he’s such a caring disposition and the way he sees things.
“I think it would be awesome – once you go to the pros.”
Can you tell the family is into football as much as politics? They were the first to arrive for this year’s JSU Fan Day and they’ve been to almost every game Burks has played.
The game they will see this week is perhaps the biggest test for Burks and his line mates. Tennessee State is the No. 1 ranked defense in the FCS this week. The Tigers also are ranked No. 3 in scoring defense.
The Tigers have given up an average of less than 250 yards a game. The Gamecocks, behind Burks and his line mates, are averaging 466 yards a game. Running back DaMarcus James has rushed for three touchdowns in each of the last three games and for more than 180 yards in each of the last two.
“I think it’s a great challenge,” Burks said. “We can challenge our offense to see how we’re doing. I think we’re at a great state right now. (Moving the ball on TSU) says we’re on the right track where we need to be.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.