ATLANTA — Call him “The Chief.”
A hopeful leader positioned in the back of Georgia Tech’s young but experienced secondary, safety Morgan Burnett actually wouldn’t mind seeing the nickname stick.
In fact, he’s already more than halfway to having the moniker stamped directly on the back of his uniform.
“I like the fact that the chief Indian is a major leader and all his whole tribe looks up to him and looks forward to following him,” said Burnett, who hopes to pattern his playing style this season after the new, four-inch tattoo etched onto his left forearm.
In the course of snagging a career-high seven interceptions last year, he let his playing demonstrate his leadership prowess. Finding a knack for coming away with turnover after turnover, Burnett quickly became Georgia Tech’s own King of Pick, snatching more passes than the five the Yellow Jackets had as a team the year before. And as Georgia Tech fans began to take notice, so too did the country.
Following Burnett’s banner year, the now rising junior was given All-ACC status and placed on this summertime preseason All-America lists.
While the honors are nice, he contends, they still pale in comparison to the thing that is his sole focus entering this coming season: finding a way to help direct this team.
“(The coaches) like the way I lead by example, but with a lot of leadership guys like Darryl Richard leaving, they want me to step up and be a little more of a vocal leader,” Burnett said.
Fellow safety Dominique Reese, a self-proclaimed “rah-rah guy,” believes loud leaders like former defensive lineman Richard are needed on the Yellow Jackets’ defense.
“I’ll get in your face, I definitely talk a lot. That’s how I motivate,” Reese said. “Morgan Burnett is a little more quiet, but he’s definitely a leader.”
At first glance, it doesn’t seem the concept of being a chief is foreign to Burnett. Already this offseason, he and starting quarterback Josh Nesbitt have helped coordinate team-only workouts, such as casual 7-on-7 drills without coaches present. During those practices, the receivers and defensive backs share secrets and tips they believe will help each other, Burnett said.
But even before this summer, as just a member of the Yellow Jacket clan his first two seasons, Burnett began learning a pair of traits he believes leaders ought to have. They were so powerful that following his freshman season, he was compelled to get the words tattooed on his biceps: “Trust” and “Family.”
“I feel like stepping out there, the defense, we’re one big family, and then I think we should trust everyone out there on every play and every down,” Burnett said.
They were just a small portion of the other tattoos he had blazoned at the top of his arm, just above a normal T-shirt sleeve.
His most recent inking came at the end of February, giving it just enough time to heal before spring practices began less than a month later. The image of the chief depicts a man’s head, surrounded by feathers. His face, gazing off to the right, is points inward, toward Burnett’s body.
Although he seeks to pattern his newfound role after the warrior like figure, Burnett admitted that there may be one week this season in which the eyes of his “chief Indian” are covered: Week 6 at Florida State.
“I might wear a half-sleeve over it,” he said, joking about playing in front of the Seminoles and their chief like mascot.