January 7, 2017 at 12:05 AM
MAHOPAC, N.Y.— People who have known Mahopac High School senior Charlie Burt a long time always believed that he had the heart of a giant. But now they have proof.
The captain lineman of the varsity football team received the Heart of a Giant Award last month, beating out thousands of applicants and 50 nominees from the tri-state area. New York Giant running back Rashad Jennings came to the school in a surprise visit to announce Burt’s victory.
But the perks were just beginning. Burt, along with his family and coach Mark Langella, were invited to Met Life Stadium Dec. 18 to watch the Giants take on the Detroit Lions from some of the best seats in the house.
“It was really an awesome experience having my family and my coach there together,” Burt said. “It’s definitely something I will never forget.”
After walking VIP-style through the tunnel, Burt was presented with the Heart of the Giant trophy and a $5,000 check to be put toward new uniforms and equipment for the football team of the future.
Burt was born without a left hand, but it didn’t slow his dream to be a football player.
“God blessed me with this (having one hand),” Burt said. “It’s such a great lesson and shows how much character I had from a young age to do things that most people would give up on.”
His story is used by the coaching staff to inspire the younger players
“Every year [Coach Langella] wants to tell the kids about the story of Charlie Burt when he hands out the jerseys,” said Charlie’s mother, Nicole.
Interim high school principal John Augusta and Langella organized Jennings’ visit and the surprise gathering. Giant defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who suffered a hand injury from a fireworks accident and then made a comeback, also delivered a message via video.
“Charlie has always been our hero since he was little,” his mom said. “He never let anything stop him. We’re extremely proud of him and thank God every day for him.”
Burt doesn’t only stand out on the football field. He excels in the classroom as well, where he maintains a 92 grade-point average while taking a load of college-level courses.
“My parents wanted to teach me that I had to work hard,” Burt said. “There was never ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ since I was little. You’ve got to keep going no matter what. Coach even told me at the beginning of the season that he…wanted to be hard on me so that the other kids would not doubt my abilities. It’s such a big blessing because even though he was hard on me, he was always there if I needed him.”
Still working through the college application process, Burt plans to study both biochemistry and business next year. His school choices include Sacred Heart, Pace, Fordham and Manhattan College.
In college, academics will be a priority for Burt, although club football is not out of the question.
“I will see what football has to offer me,” he said. “If they have a good club team, I will play. But I just want to focus on my academics for the first year. I will probably end up missing it and try out for the next year.”
Burt believes he won the Heart of a Giant honors because of his commitment to serve the Mahopac community
“[The selection committee] watched the video and it was unanimous,” his mom said. “There was not a person in the room who didn’t want to vote for Charlie.”
Burt and his mother created the MSA Smiles Program seven years ago, and the annual event, a baseball game that allows children with special needs to compete just like the other kids, is still going strong.
Burt came up with the idea after volunteering to have a catch with a disabled boy, who was doing so with his aide.
A youth baseball player himself, Burt knows just what it feels like to shock the crowd.
“I told him, ‘God made you this way for a reason. You are going to inspire people,’” Nicole Burt said. “He truly does that. When he pitched in baseball, people were amazed. When someone tried to bunt on him, he caught the ball and threw the kid out at first. Both benches cleared and screamed, they were so excited for him.”
Burt also organized and instructed referees participating in the MSA flag football league this past fall. In addition, he became USA Football coach certified. That allowed him to coach the defense of his eighth-grade brother’s football team.
Burt is an active participant in Relay for Life. He and the rest of the football team helped organize the charitable summertime event.
“It’s just an exciting time right now,” Nicole Burt said. “For everything to be happening for him, it’s been a great year. For a kid who has flown under the radar for so long, he is all over the news.”
As for the football season, the Indians posted a losing record but not before taking Burt’s lead and playing their tails off.
Burt and mother said they wanted to give a monumental thank you to the entire Mahopac community, friends, family and coaching staff for the support this year.
“The year was a great learning experience,” Burt said. “All of my coaches were unbelievable. I could not think of myself playing for anybody else, honestly. They and my teammates made it a great experience.”
One more thing that Burt will never forget from his high school experience: how to handle and ultimately hurdle adversity.
“Anything that you put your mind to, you can achieve it,” Burt said. “The sky really is the limit. The only limitations that I see are the ones that you set on yourself. So far I see no limitations and I am very excited to see what the future holds for me.”