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Sports >  High school sports

Youth Sports Awards: Gunner Giulio, Sky Burke make tough choices on sport to pursue in college

When you’re a high school senior, opportunities can seem endless. When you play at an all-state level in multiple sports, even more so. Add in the pressure of following in successful older siblings footsteps, and those opportunities might get overwhelming.

Those were the decisions facing Coeur d’Alene seniors Gunner Giulio and Sky Burke, The Spokesman-Review 2022 North Idaho Boys and Girls Athletes of the Year, respectively.

But everyone has to eventually make their own paths.

Giulio signed at Carroll College to play football, and Burke is headed to UC Santa Barbara for basketball.

Strong lineage

Despite his status as Coeur d’Alene’s first four-time state champion wrestler – and his family’s extensive history in the sport – Giulio signed at Carroll to play linebacker.

A four-year varsity letter winner at CdA, Giulio was a two-time second-team all-state defense selection and 5A Inland Empire League MVP. He was a team captain and was twice named the North Idaho Athlete Boys of the Year.

On top of his defensive prowess, Giulio rushed for nine touchdowns this season and 23 in his career, eclipsing 1,200 yards and averaging 6.9 yards per carry in his career.

Giulio will be reunited at Carroll with CdA teammates Jack Prka and Jake Brown as well as fellow Vikings seniors Jaxson Washington and Wyatt Sandford, who also signed with the Saints.

Once his decision was made to forgo wresting in college to play football, he didn’t look back.

“My whole life, I kind of had told my family and they had told me I was gonna play football in college, just because ever since I was little I just felt like I was more experienced out there,” Giulio said. “Wrestling my whole life, sure it’s been hard to kinda cope with the idea that I’m not going to wrestle again. At first, it was an easy decision, thinking back though it’s definitely a lot tougher now.”

Giulio made up his mind in November that he was going to Carroll, so going into wrestling season he knew it would be his last.

“This wrestling season was probably the hardest wresting season of them all, just because I knew that I was done,” he said. “It was very emotional toward the end.”

His decision wasn’t made lightly, though, considering his results – 88-4 his last three years of high school with 61 pins – and family history.

His father, Jim, coached American Falls wrestling to five state 3A titles (2001, ’06, ’08-’10).

Gunner’s oldest brother, V.J., was a four-time Idaho state wrestling champion (2008-11) and older brother Boone was a three-time champ (2015, ’16, ’18) at American Falls. V.J. Giulio helped North Idaho College to a co-NJCAA title in 2013, then won a national title at 197 pounds in 2014.

“My brothers have paved a path for me that was pretty hard to match,” he said. “Just to think that it was the last time that basically my family would ever step out on a wrestling mat again in an Idaho arena for the state tournament, it was weird to think and I felt like I needed to prove something almost.”

Giulio said his only disappointment his senior season was not making it back to the state title game in football. Coeur d’Alene fell to Eagle 23-14 in a state quarterfinal game.

“I think my class and this group of kids were super motivated and wanted to work hard and we all wanted to win the state championship,” he said. “We all fought together. But stuff happens – that’s how football works. We were all busting out butts, and Eagle is a good football team. … It was definitely tough to go out that way.”

Giulio enjoys the challenges that his two sports provide.

”Wrestling is a more mental sport,” he said. “It’s a one-on-one, combat sport. For wrestling, I definitely prepare my mind by focusing on what I’m going to do and what they’re not going to do and take my advantages and their weaknesses.”

Giulio acknowledged that in football he needed to be able to rely on his teammates, where in wrestling he’d only have himself.

”Football and wrestling go hand-in-hand,” he said. “Things that you use on a wrestling mat you’re going to use on a football field. That’s why I think wrestlers make the best football players.”

On the go

Burke was named IEL co-MVP and earned 5A all-state honors in basketball, was an all-league infielder in softball and a key contributor in volleyball. She averaged 18.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists on the court and hit .421 with 27 RBIs in the spring.

As with Giulio, sports runs in the family for Burke.

Her older sister, Breana, was an all-state pitcher for the Vikings and played softball at UNLV and Lipscomb University. Her younger sister, Chloe, made varsity in softball as a freshman this year.

Burke is accustomed to playing multiple sports at all times of the year, often playing on club teams while playing something else for school.

Her senior year was a bit of a blur.

“I think I got everything done that I wanted to with my schedule being able to balance school and sports and everything,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of things I’m supposed to do or where I’m supposed to be.”

Occasionally, she’ll plan a rest day, but they have been few and far between.

“I’ve always grown up playing so many sports and I love having a different challenge with each sport,” she said. “I’ve never wanted to stop playing, even though I know it takes up a lot of time.

“I feed off of it and the energy from other people. I love it. I know a lot of people don’t like having that type of a schedule but I thrive off of it.”

As hard as it is to imagine, playing college basketball might present something of a “slowdown” for an athlete used to being on the go as much as Burke.

“It’s definitely going to be weird, but I’m excited because I know with playing multiple sports all year long I don’t exactly get to focus 100% of my time on just training and bettering myself in one sport,” she said. “I feel like it’ll be nice to see how far I jump in basketball when I get to just focus on that.”

Burke is a “high-motor” athlete who never takes a play off, even fighting through injury. She’s always looking for ways to improve.

“Because basketball is the sport I’m pursuing in college, I would work on my skill set outside of my other sports,” Burke said. “I didn’t really take any time off from basketball as much. But it’s definitely harder to work on skills outside of practices.”

She moves on campus in late July and is excited for what the college experience has to bring – though the NCAA rules governing practice, and training will be an adjustment.

“I’m just so used to being able to practice whenever, practicing all year round,” she said.

“I’m looking forward to competing at such a high level and seeing how much I can grow my game playing against people at that high level.”

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