BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- Less than two years ago, Luke Burns wasn't sure he'd ever play football again.
Some doctors weren't even sure the Bernards High School athlete would walk again.
A severe and unusual thigh injury in the spring of Burns' freshman year left the three-sport participant hospitalized for 10 days, with some medical experts concerned that Burns' left leg might require amputation.
Just 20 months after suffering compartment syndrome after a violent collision while he was playing lacrosse, Burns capped his junior football season by being named to the Mid-State 38 Conference's All-Valley Division first team as a linebacker.
Any concerns that Burns' ability to return to the sport (he also wrestles in the winter in addition to spring lacrosse and fall football) would be compromised were put to rest once and for all when the inside linebacker racked up 155 tackles--one of the top totals in New Jersey--while helping lead Bernards to an 8-2 record this fall.
"The injury he had, compartment syndrome, (a person) can die from it," Bernards head football coach Jon Simoneau said.
"I was running and someone's knee hit my upper thigh and the muscle burst open," Burns said of his injury. "I was in the hospital for 10 days and had three surgeries. When I first got there they didn't know if I’d be allowed to keep my leg or if they’d have to amputate. They weren’t really sure what to do at first. I did not think I was gonna be back for at least a year. It was pretty scary."
After his surgeries, after doctors determined that Burns would be able to keep his leg, he was discharged, but with an arduous road ahead.
"I got into weight room as soon as I could and I worked out as best as I possibly could," Burns said.
He actually made it back onto the football field by late September 2018, missing only the first two games of his sophomore season.
"I was around 75 percent, but I was allowed to play, so I did to the best of my ability. It was a very quick recovery," Burns said. "I got to play most of the season."
After wrestling and playing lacrosse as a sophomore, by this fall, Burns was back to 100 percent on the football field, although he admits that, even in the 2019 season, there were times when he still felt pain.
"It definitely does hurt during games when I get hit there, more so than if I got hit the same way on the other side," Burns said. "But the pain is temporary. The doctors believe I am at the same risk now as anyone else. I wear an extra sleeve and an extra thigh pad."
Bernards' first-year defensive coordinator Luke Maginnis stepped in and added some new nuances to the Mountaineers' defense, which employs four linebackers. Burns plays inside backer on the strong side, opposite the opponent's tight end.
"Coach Maginnis prepared me so well," Burns said. "I've never had such a good defensive coach. He taught us perfectly. I had a great learning opportunity and I took advantage of it. He prepared us well. I was able to succeed because of that."
As remarkable as Burns' tackle total was--as well as his nine quarterback hurries, 4.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles and 11.5 tackles for losses--Simoneau believes Burns still has untapped potential.
"I still think the best is yet to come with Luke," Simoneau said. "He has a great knowledge of the game. He's a gritty throwback type of a player, but he's just scratching the surface of how good he could be."
The next challenge for Burns came after the football season ended. As a wrestler, Burns competes in the 160-pound weight class.
"I started at 179, because that's what I played at during football," Burns said. "I had to lose that weight. It's not as much as it sounds, but I always try to bulk up for football and then cut down for wrestling."
The regular season begins for Burns and the Bernards wrestling team next week.