Let's Get Ready To Rumble

Oct. 19, 2010

Next game: Saturday at Clemson, 3:30 p.m., ABC (regional)/ESPN (national)

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

WRITER’S NOTE: In Tuesday’s story Eye Contact, I need to make the following corrections:

• Plastech Corporation is a thermoforming company, not injection molding.

• The company’s official web site is www.plastech.com

• Larry Lee’s wife’s name is Cathy, not Kathy.

Standing side-by-side, sophomore inside linebacker Julian Burnett (5-10, 222) will never be confused with senior ILB Brad Jefferson (6-2, 244).

Although with their similar beards, he could pass for a smaller version. Actually, he already has.

“When he first came in everybody was saying, ‘There’s Little Brad right there,'” recalled quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, with a laugh.

Playing side-by-side, Burnett is a lot harder to distinguish from Jefferson and the two are getting more alike every game.

“He’s coming on strong now,” said Defensive Coordinator Al Groh of the Macon native and former GHSA 4A Defensive Player of the Year as a senior at Westside High School.

He’s already tough enough. Tough enough that his teammates gave him the nickname “Rumble.”

Burnett, who’ll line up Saturday against Clemson tied for fourth in tackles on the team (33, 22 solo), credits Jefferson.

“He’s a great leader,” said Burnett. “Any time we’re down in the game I can look at his side and he’s got a positive attitude. I play off of him. He gives me a lot of confidence being beside him because I know he’ll do his job so I just take on my role.”

Since replacing redshirt freshman Brandon Watts on Oct. 2 at Wake Forest, Burnett has 23 tackles (18 of them solo). Games like Saturday afternoon against Middle Tennessee State show how comfortable he’s become in that role.

Burnett tormented the Blue Raiders, making a team-high eight tackles, including a game-high seven solos. He also recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble and recorded one of four Tech interceptions.

Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson actually sites a lack of communication on Burnett’s part for his effectiveness.

“He’s not the prototype height and weight and all that,” said Johnson. “But when he gets out there somebody forgot to tell him that because he flies around, he makes plays.”

It’s a lack of communication the Yellow Jackets are happy to deal with and one Burnett has lived with his entire life.

“I got a lot of that when I was in high school, getting recruited,” he said. “That kept me from getting a lot of the offers that maybe I should have gotten but this is where I wanted to be and now I’m in the position that I want to be in, playing. I don’t pay attention to that. If somebody else has a problem with it they can handle it.”

Evidently they can’t handle Burnett. Not many can.

“He’s always been playing like that,” said quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. “In the spring, I saw him play like that. His talent is just coming out and showing.”

It took a while, as coming out of the spring he was buried on the depth chart. He endured a lack of confidence that nearly buried him. But he never completely lost faith. He wasn’t allowed to.

“Honestly, I did hang my head a little bit in the spring, because it was a little discouraging,” he said. “But I had a good support system at home with my family and a lot of my teammates told me to keep pushing. They had a lot of faith in me when I had lost it in myself.

“I had to gain it in myself,” he continued. “Once I did, I just started it playing. I just kept going. I kept fighting and I’m in the position I’m in now.”

That position is opposite Jefferson, the ideal position for him.

Burnett’s rise in confidence has mirrored that of the Yellow Jackets, who have become a presence, just in time for the meat of their ACC schedule.

“Any time you’re in a new system, you’re kind of iffy about what you’re doing,” Burnett said. “But now that we’re getting the hang of it and we know exactly what we need to do. It’s just clicking and we’re able to move the line a lot more, give a lot more disguises and just play the game.”

That’s all Burnett ever wanted.

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