Brent Burnette tries to remember how he got so far from Maryville, the small Tennessee town where he grew up. His words draw over an imaginary portrait framed by memories of hot food and cordial folks; visions that could remind anyone of home.
For a 21-year old quarterback attending his third college in three years, he stays surprisingly optimistic. His half-glass outlook is less of Nietzsche, and more like Carol Brady.
“It makes you grow up a bit, you’re on your own, and it’s not like you can run home on the weekends,” Burnette said of his 2010 season at a junior college in Yuma, Ariz.—over 2,000 miles from Maryville.
A journey saturated with coaching changes, 118-degree heat, and some valuable lessons, is still being written.
Sitting with his arms wrapped around his knees on Dal Ward Athletic Center’s front steps, he stares towards the Flatiron’s foothills. A smile works loose his half-shaven face.
He reminisces over a “real beautiful” town, which lays a frog’s leap south of Knoxville and rests beneath the Great Smoky Mountains.
“It’s kind of similar to here,” he says with a pleasant twang. “Where I’m from you’ve got a bunch of lakes and rivers, so everyone’s into boating.”
When not boating with family at Ft. Loudon Lake, the former 4A Mr. Football of Tennessee never lost a high school game. His Red Rebels set a ridiculous 60-0 mark with four state titles.
Throwing to best friend Aaron Douglas in his prep days, the tight end that signed with Phil Fulmer’s Volunteers, allowed Burnette to garner a scholarship of his own. In 2008, the undefeated prep star landed at nearby Middle Tennessee State.
“They were a part of something very special that I don’t think will ever be done again in the state of Tennessee,” said Maryville head-coach George Quarles.
Four years later, as Burnette rests during an unseasonably warm February afternoon, he looks back without cynical grudges. Instead, he exudes an enchantment with his newest residency, already calling Coach John Embree’s staff the best he’s ever been around.
From the green-topped Smoky Mountains via a short detour to the flatlands of Yuma, Burnette arrives in Boulder with plenty of mileage and a head full of terminology.
Those travels will not go lost without their payoffs, as Burnette realizes his experiences will help him adapt immediately to another football program.
“Since I’ve been in college I’ve had a different offensive coordinator every year,” Burnette said. “So I’m kind of used to learning a new offense.”
A two-year stint at nearby Middle Tennessee State held few highlights, but one came when Brent came off the bench his freshman season to help lift his team victorious in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl.
The game would be his last for the Raiders, as his play-caller left for South Carolina, taking any evidence of a pro-style offense with him. The team switched to a spread, asking for the quarterback to run 20 to 25 times per game, so Burnette left for a new start.
Tom Minnick, a coach from Arizona Western Community College, met Burnette at the door, saying his pass-friendly offense could help spring the dejected quarterback into the Division-1 level. In turn, Burnette told Minnick he could help by bringing an old friend along.
Douglas, by now a bus-sized offensive tackle, wanted out of Tennessee after experiencing coaching swaps of his own. Burnette told him to come visit Western so they could start their careers again, still searching for the winning glories they knew in high school.
“For those guys coming out here was kind of a culture shock,” Minnick said. “They got down here and loved it and [I could tell from] just the expressions on their faces they didn’t expect this.”
Last season, as the starting quarterback, the 6-foot-3 Burnette lead the Matadors to a No. 1 ranking until an upset loss, their only one of the regular season.
Appearing in seven games before suffering a rib injury, Burnette performed well enough to field interest from Kansas, Louisville, Cincinnati, and a handful of MAC programs.
“This is his dream,” Minnick said. “He wanted to move on to a Division-1 school when he came here, and it worked out for him.”
Over the holidays, Burnette returned to Tennessee while CU remained persistent on his recruiting trail. After Passing-game Coordinator J.D. Brookhart visited his house, Burnette was sold.
“Talking about the type of direction they wanted to go on offense and just as a team in general caught my attention,” Burnette said. “I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
As the only member of John Embree’s first recruiting class to be on campus, the former orphan of coaching shuffles has found a second home.
For now, his measurables and statistics matter none. He’s the new kid, playing a role he knows too well, hoping for somewhere to fit in. If success finds him here, like it has everywhere else he’s been, things could be good.
Burnette can’t help but obsess over Colorado’s schedule in the inaugural Pac-12 season. One that features an early trip to Hawaii, followed with a date in Columbus to tango with the Buckeyes, and a stop back in Arizona for the ASU game, is all he could have hoped for.
“I’m going to have memories for a lifetime going to all these different areas and playing,” he said.
There he goes, lost in thought about moving, again.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Michael Krumholtz at Michael.email@example.com.