Julian Burnett waited for the right school to offer him a scholarship.
The Westside senior had a number of scholarship offers from prestigious schools like Mississippi and Wake Forest. But he never made a commitment. He waited on one school, the one he wanted to play for from the start.
“Julian told me after a camp we went to when he was younger that he wanted to go to Georgia Tech,” Westside defensive coordinator Mike Swaney said. “He liked Georgia Tech very early and was willing to hold off on his decision for them. His mother really like (Mississippi assistant coach) Tyrone Nix, but Julian always had his heart set on Georgia Tech.”
It was an intelligent marketing job by Burnett, who made it a point to never alienate any school and to never tip his hat.
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“I think I always knew I was going to Georgia Tech if they offered me,” Burnett said.
The transition to college life could be quick for Burnett. The Westside linebacker said he’s considering enrolling early to get a quick jump in the classroom, as well as on the field.
The on-field transition shouldn’t be too difficult for Burnett, the Telegraph’s GHSA All-Middle Georgia football player of the year.
The Seminoles’ standout linebacker has been one of the best defensive players in the area for the past three years and, according to his coach, one of the best in the history of Middle Georgia football.
“He is as good as any player I have ever seen,” Westside head coach Robert Davis said. “He’s real tough, real physical and just makes plays for you. It doesn’t matter if he’s double- or triple-teamed. He’ll make the play. But his best qualities are off the field. He’s just a great young man.”
Burnett’s leadership in the middle of the Westside defense helped lead the Seminoles to one of the best seasons in school history. Westside won the GHSA Region 1-AAAA championship, had its first undefeated regular season and earned its first ever No. 1 ranking.
He finished the season with 170 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, eight sacks, four forced fumbles and three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He finished with 544 career tackles.
Burnett was also a big factor on the Seminoles’ dynamic offense. He rushed for 13 touchdowns and scored another touchdown off a reception. With less than 30 touches of the ball, Burnett scored 17 touchdowns.
“He just knows how to get in the end zone when he has the ball,” Davis said. “He could be a great running back if we needed him there. We just didn’t.”
While his stats are comparable or better than any linebacker in the state, Burnett meant more to his team than the numbers would show.
Nearly every opposing coach designed a scheme to make Burnett a non-factor. But while Burnett saw increased attention from blockers, his teammates made the plays for him. By the second quarter, opposing coaches couldn’t just worry about Burnett.
“We all want to make plays for (Burnett),” senior defensive tackle Chris McMullen said earlier in the year. “We know he’s the best linebacker in the state. So while everybody tries to run away from him, we try to make plays and get Julian back into the game. It’s easier to stop one guy than 11. Because of Julian, all 11 guys on our defense could step up to make plays.”
Said Swaney: “Everything we do on defense radiates out from Julian.”
Westside’s defense held opponents to 30 points in the regular season and allowed three touchdowns through 10 games, five of which were shutouts. The Seminoles allowed 17 through two playoff games before giving up 31 (one of the touchdowns came on an interception return) in a semifinals loss to Tucker.
Burnett said he still really isn’t over the loss, although he’ll get a chance to get back on the field Dec. 29 in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association All-Star Game. And he might be back on the field shortly after that for spring practice at Georgia Tech.
“I just want to go in and compete hard and see what happens,” said Burnett, who will major in business. “I know I made the right choice. I just want them to know they made the right choice when they offered me.”