‘I want to be the first’: Why five-star recruit Luther Burden picked Missouri Tigers

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Luther Burden III sat at a table draped in a black tablecloth Tuesday at the Herbert Hoover Boys & Girls Club in St. Louis, his father, Luther Burden Jr., next to him and microphones and cameras staring him down in anticipation of a decision.

In front of the five-star wide receiver were three hats representing three options for his future: Georgia, Alabama and Missouri.

After Burden thanked several people and gave a short speech came the words college football fans around the country had been waiting months for: “I will be committing to...”

The highly touted recruit picked up the Georgia and Alabama hats and looked down at each, pausing for a moment before throwing them on the ground and selecting the black hat with a Tiger on the front. The crowd gathered in the gym erupted as he placed the hat on his head and made the decision official: “The University of Missouri.”

“I want to be the first,” Burden continued. “You know how big recruits in St. Louis, they all go to places like the Georgias, the Alabamas, I mean I just want to start a trend here in St. Louis for the younger people with talent in front of me ... to stay home and take our talents to Missouri.”

Burden, a senior at East St. Louis High, is the top rated wide receiver on the 2022 ESPN 300 and is ranked as the No. 6 overall player in his class, according to the 247Sports Composite.

Though he made a point to keep everyone guessing, the St. Louis native said even before he visited Georgia last weekend, he knew in the back of his mind that Missouri football was the program he wanted to join.

The visit to the Mizzou campus in Columbia on the weekend of Oct. 9 was what sealed the deal for the No. 2 ranked pledge in program history.

He was sitting in the stands at Faurot Field for the homecoming game against North Texas when JJ Hester scored a touchdown on a post route to put the Tigers up 21-7 in the second quarter. Burden pictured himself scoring a touchdown wearing the Black and Gold and the crowd going crazy, and in that moment, he knew that was where he wanted to spend his college career.

“I just knew I had to stay at home and make a difference in my state,” Burden said.

His mother, Gaye Union, who says she didn’t know her son’s decision until he announced it, loved seeing how fans had painted Burden’s name on their backs and were so enthusiastic to have him in Columbia. When they went out to eat dinner, fans chanted “Luther Burden!”

“They made us feel so welcome,” Union said.

Added Burden: “For real, it was a dream. ... it really made me feel love and just made me feel wanted.”

Burden also mentioned his relationship with Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz as a big factor in the decision. Burden said that Drinkwitz first reached out to him when he was committed to Oklahoma. Though the wide receiver didn’t pay as much attention to it at first, as he was supposed to join the Sooners before reopening his recruitment this August, their bond continued to grow and he knew he’d be comfortable playing for him with a chance to make an impact right away.

While they were in Columbia, the Burden family had meals with Drinkwitz and his family at their home two or three times as well.

“I got a good relationship with Coach Drink,” Burden said. “I believe in him and him building and recruiting St Louis. He already got a lot of St. Louis guys up there and we’re gonna rebuild this thing.”

Still, the decision wasn’t necessarily an easy one. Especially after going to see No. 1 Georgia last weekend with a packed crowd and red carpet treatment.

“He was getting stressed out with so many people calling him, pulling him all different ways,” Luther Burden Jr. said. “I’m just happy that he chose Mizzou.”

Burden plans on graduating this winter and enrolling early at Missouri in January. He said he has already started trying to get other St. Louis area recruits to stay home and join him in Columbia next fall.

“I don’t want to be the next, I want to be the first,” Burden said. “You know, bring one home to my own city.”

Drinkwitz and his staff now have 15 pledges in their 2022 recruiting class, also highlighted by quarterback Sam Horn, offensive lineman Deshawn Woods, running back Tavorus Jones, defensive lineman Marquis Gracial, safety Isaac Thompson and wide receiver Ja’Marion Wayne — all four-star rated players.

With Burden on board, the Tigers’ recruiting class is rated 14th in the country and fifth in the SEC, per the 247Sports Composite, trailing only Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU.