Aug. 12, 2011
By Jon Cooper
Julian Burnett led Georgia Tech in tackles last year despite not starting until the sixth game of the season.
Just think of what he could do starting from Day One! That decision is a no-brainer for Head Coach Paul Johnson.
“Julian is a leader, that is just the way he is,” said Johnson. “He likes to play hard, he runs around and short is not really Julian’s game. He is not going to scare anybody when they look at him but he is a solid, hard hitter with a nose for the ball and when he starts playing the game, he is going to shine.”
That kind of talk and the opportunity to shine is something that the junior inside linebacker and former star at Westside High School in Macon has contemplated since last season ended. He brought a ratcheted- up intensity into pre-season practices.
“I’m excited, just knowing that as of right now, I will be out there on the field for the first snap of the game and the first game of the year,” he said. “That’s exciting.”
That’s also about as much as Burnett will think about tackling. He prefers to just make them, as he did 89 times (42 of them solo efforts) last year, ranking 14th in the ACC. He has 130 tackles (68 solo) in two seasons.
Last year’s total was remarkable considering he started the season blowing things up on special teams. He finally became impossible to keep off the field after his effort on Oct. 2 at Wake Forest, where he recorded a team-high-tying 10 tackles, with seven solo), and one for loss. Paired with Brad Jefferson at inside linebacker, he soon found himself constantly around ball-carriers and became a force creating turnovers, forcing two fumbles, recovering one and grabbing an interception.
Doing more, personally and team-wise, this year is a no-brainer.
“That we know what we’re doing now and we’re a step ahead of where we were last year gives us a lot of confidence,” he said. “We’re running to the ball a lot better because we know our assignments. We don’t have to do so much thinking.
“That’s one of the big things at linebacker. You don’t want to do too much thinking,” he added. “Because once the ball’s snapped and you get your read, you’ve got to be able to react. So the fact that I’ve been here a year, we’ve been able to learn the defense a lot better and get more familiar and just react a lot faster.”
He’d like to show just how much better more this year.
“I want to be able to give everything that I have on every play. Not getting too tired or having to come out,” he said. “Last year I didn’t play a lot on third-and-long situations. This year I [will], so my conditioning level had to get that much higher to stay out on the field.”
He raised his conditioning level by spending even more time in the weight room — not a hard-sell for a guy who is already one of the strongest players on the team — he can squat 600 pounds, bench 460 and power clean 350.
Johnson is impressed by the amount of punch the junior can pack into his 5-10, 220-pound frame and defies anyone to sell him short based on his size.
“He is just not physically imposing,” Johnson said. “If you had all of the guys line up and you were trying to pick out who is the toughest, baddest cat, you wouldn’t pick Julian. And you might be wrong, because he might be when you put the pads on.”
Actually, you’d be dead wrong if you ask any of his teammates, who know better and know Burnett better. In their informal preseason polls Burnett received the most votes in the category, “You really would not want to fight this guy.” He garnered more than 40 percent of the vote. No one else had more than eight percent.
“I guess I’ve got a lot of respect from the guys on the team,” he said, with a laugh. “Not that I try to impose my will on somebody else, but I guess it’s just a respect level. I give everybody else respect and I guess that’s the type of respect that they have for me.”
That “not imposing his will” thing doesn’t carry over to game time. Then, all bets are off.
“I’m ready to kill whoever has the ball,” Burnett said. “I’m a really easy-going guy away from football but once the pads come on, if you have the ball, you don’t want to see me.”
Burnett feels people won’t want to see this year’s Yellow Jackets defense.
“We have something to prove,” he said. “Last year wasn’t as good as we would have hoped. That’s one of the things that is going to motivate us this year.”