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New London — It began, as many great stories do, so innocently. Some nothing night in the summer, a few friends messing around kicking field goals after a summer league game, unwittingly providing a reference point for New London lore and legend.
It was the night Garrett Burdick recalls friends of his saying, "I think we should back this up a little bit."
That's because Burdick kept making them. Who knew? He'd never kicked a football before in his life. And then boom. Boom. Boom. All the way back to 45 yards.
Even then, nobody ever thought the kid, the freshman from Old Lyme who would attend the Science & Technology Magnet School, would ever salvage the season for the Whalers. But the rest, as they say, is current events.
Nov. 8, 2013: Burdick makes a 22-yarder as time runs out. New London upsets No. 3 Middletown.
Nov. 28, 2013: Burdick makes a 40-yarder late in the fourth period. New London upsets No. 9 NFA and makes the Class L playoffs, once left for dead with a 1-2 record.
Dec. 3, 2013: Burdick will be No. 89 in your program tonight in the Class L quarterfinals. The Whalers and Middletown meet again.
"I thank God every day that I got to become part of this family and part of this team," Burdick was saying Monday as the Whalers went through final preparations for their bid at the program's sixth state title.
It wasn't long ago, though, that Garrett wasn't sure he could bear it. Walking into the weight room for the first time, an outsider from Old Lyme, into the heart of the region's most storied football program.
"After that first day, I went home and said, 'Mom, this is hard. This is harder than Old Lyme has ever been for me. I don't know about all this,'" Burdick said. "Coach (Duane) Maranda texted me, (quarterback) Danny (Maranda) texted me and they said 'listen, if you just keep pushing, you'll end up loving it: the team, the school and New London.' That's what I did. I would never want to choose another group of friends."
His group of friends - now teammates and classmates Melquann Gomez, Cevon Riley and Major Roman - inspired him to try New London. They were all AAU basketball teammates. Burdick was also a receiver in football.
"I didn't even know the Science & Technology School existed," he said.
Soon, Burdick did what he once doubted was possible: He fit in. He remembers senior Jose Garcia reaching out in the early days. Turns out that Garcia's gentlemanly tendencies hastened Burdick's acceptance. His reputation, however, preceded him.
"During the summer, I heard we had this freshman with a good leg," New London assistant coach John Curry said. "When you hear the sound of a kid that kicks the ball well, you know the sound. It's a different sound."
Curry should know. He was a former scholarship kicker at the University of New Hampshire, later tutored by Matt Bahr, Chris Bahr and Chip Lohmiller, among others.
"Garrett missed his first kick of the year," Curry said. "But I told him he was doing the right things. He's progressed. A joy to coach."
And tonight, if it comes down to the kid kicker again?
"He'll go through a myriad of progressions in his head in a matter of 30 seconds," said assistant coach and former New London great Kent Reyes, who owns the school record with a 49-yard field goal in 1970. "It's very emotional, scary. He's a freshman with seniors 18 years old with their careers and futures depending on one kick. But he comes through. He comes through all the time."