Cooking With the Pros

ProStart Academy’s Gary Burley combines his two greatest passions.

by Les Lovoy, Photo by Beau Gustafson

Gary Burley

Gary Burley is a large man. It’s no surprise he spent 10 years in the National Football League, where he played for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Atlanta Falcons. His size may be imposing, but his smile is contagious. When you first meet Gary, it is like he’s known you all his life. He smiles from ear to ear and shakes your hand with what seems like a giant bear paw.


Burley is a local businessman. His primary interest is ProStart Academy, where he is founder and CEO. It’s a non-profit athletic and academic program managed by former NFL players, professionals and other experts.  Burley says when he attended high school in Grove City, Ohio, he was a typical unfocused teenager. He liked playing football and was good at it but was not recruited by any college.
“However, I was fortunate enough to meet some mentors who helped me understand the importance of marketing myself for scholarship consideration,” he explains. “Through the help of some talented friends, I became a two-year All-American in junior college. Through a lot of hard work, I went from a non-recruited player to earning a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh.”


Burley and his associates at ProStart Academy want to share their experiences with local high-school athletes. Their primary goal is to develop and enhance the athletic, academic and life skills of every athlete who attends. Burley adds that only about one percent of college athletes go on to play professional sports. Student-athletes need to be prepared to be successful in life after high school, after college and after their pro career, if they make it that far. Areas of concentration include study skills, ACT and SAT training, time management, NCAA academic requirements, selecting the right college and transcript information.

“Everyone associated with our program knows that to be successful in sports and life, there are certain skills one needs to rise to the top,” Burley explains. “We want to give student-athletes a competitive advantage by building a bridge to success on and off the field of play. That’s why our academy works to build and strengthen the three core areas which are necessary to make a successful student-athlete:  athletic training, academic excellence and strong life skills, such as time management and learning how to market yourself for success.”
ProSport Academy gives Burley a true sense of accomplishment, showing high school athletes the road to success in sports and beyond. But Burley is a friendly, gregarious man. He enjoys being around folks. Entertaining. Chatting. Having fun. Back in the early to mid-’80s, he was chatting with record executive L.A. Reed. Reed was taken so much by Burley’s personality and drive, he suggested Burley have his own TV show.


“I remember thinking, me have my own TV show, really?” Burley said. “I wondered what subjects could I possibly  cover on a TV show that would interest viewers and keep me motivated.”  Burley said he thanked Reed for the compliment and went home to think about it. “I started thinking about how fun it would be to host a program which combined my two loves, cooking and sports.”   That is when he started planning What’s Cooking in Sports. The show is currently in production for it’s first season. It is broadcast on the Alabama Cable Network, which airs on Charter Cable, channel 80. The network serves over 500,000 homes throughout the state. The show has recently created a partnership with Power Force, a company which produces sports wristbands and apparel.


“We are extremely proud of our show,” Burley noted. “I have a consulting team of marketing specialists, former professional athletes, team managers, media specialists and business professionals. These talented folks keep me focused and offer tips to produce the best program possible.”  The hosts for the program are Burley himself, Lars Anderson and Niki Noto. Anderson is the primary motor sports writer for Sports Illustrated. Noto is the Atlanta Falcons inside reporter, a CSS freelance reporter and an ATL Sports Experience reporter. The program is divided into four segments.


“What’s Cooking” features cooking demonstrations with a sports guest and the culinary themes of game day, tailgate and player favorites. “Round Table Discussions” feature athletes, coaches, sports journalists, entertainers and physicians giving their insights into sports, from high school to professional.  Burley said this segment often includes discussions on how high school and college athletes market themselves to rise to the next level. “Nascar” includes updates on the sport of racing, and “Where Are They Now” features greats of football and updates on their lives after sports. This segment focuses on players and schools from around the state of Alabama through a partnership with the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.


His friendly and open demeanor has allowed Burley to gather many friends in the sports world over the years. He says he’s looking forward to having such guests as Tony Dorsett, Chris Doleman, Carl Pickens, Bo Jackson, Lionel James, Joe Cribbs, Chris Collinsworth, Bart Starr and Paul Finebaum on “Cooking With The Pros.”
“I’m extremely excited about “What’s Cooking in Sports,” Burley said. “It truly combines two of my loves, cooking and sports. And it’s a lot of fun to bring my old friends from my playing days. It makes producing the show that much more enjoyable, and I hope it shows to everyone watching.”

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