Alumnus wraps up collegiate football career with several accolades, now focusing on coaching
(Feb. 20, 2019) A young Kennesaw State University alumnus, Chandler Burks ’18, recently wrapped up his collegiate football-playing career as the most decorated player in the short history of Owls football.
Burks, who went from being the KSU football program’s very first verbal commitment and signee to its most accomplished performer, not only succeeded on the field but also in the classroom.
At the conclusion of this past season, Burks finished as the runner-up in the voting for the Walter Payton Award, which recognizes the nation’s top offensive player in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). In 2018, he led the country with 29 rushing touchdowns, an all-time FCS single-season record for quarterbacks.
While leading the Owls to a 23-4 overall record – including a perfect 10-0 mark in conference games – and back-to-back appearances in the FCS national quarterfinals, Burks was named the 2017 and 2018 Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Year, along with the Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He holds many Kennesaw State and Big South records and was chosen to numerous All-America teams during his career.
“It took a lot of hard work, patience, opportunities that I was able to seize and it also took me being humbled,” Burks said. “I ended up tearing my ACL that first year and then you’re at the bottom of the depth chart.
“The biggest thing for me was always relying on my family, on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and just surrounding myself with great people that had the same mindset as I had, which was being a student-athlete. Academics is a huge piece of why I was here and why I am here.
“Along with hard work, it took believing in Coach (Brian) Bohannon and the staff and them believing in me, along with my teammates. It’s been the most surreal experience the past five years and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been a phenomenal experience.”
Burks committed to Kennesaw State in June 2013, prior to his senior year at South Paulding High School in Douglasville, Georgia. He began his journey as a college student-athlete in August 2014 and earned his Bachelor of Science in sport management with summa cum laude honors last May.
On the field, Burks believed the Owls could be successful very early on in their football history, which is a rarity for most upstart programs in any sport.
“There was no timetable to our success, but the foundation was laid back in 2014 through our coaches running us through those practices every day,” Burks said. “Camaraderie gets built over that time and there was no reason for us not to have the success with the talent, the players, the coaching staff and all the resources we have here.”
Burks’ decision to attend KSU was an easy one. While in high school, he knew he wanted to play college football and was recruited by other schools, but in the end Kennesaw State was the only program to offer him a scholarship to play the game he loves.
“Before me and my dad came up and went on campus, Coach Bohannon was telling me about everything, selling me on a vision, selling me on leaving a legacy and being able to make history,” Burks said. “He told me about everything that came with Kennesaw, behind the academics, the housing, the dining hall and everything that was around it.”
After hearing about all KSU and its brand new football program had to offer, Burks surprised the Owls’ head coach.
“I remember I was sitting there and told him (Bohannon) that I wanted to commit, on the spot, and he stood up, looked at me with those eyes and said, ‘You don’t know what you just did,’” Burks said.
Now, almost six years later, Burks reflects back on his time at Kennesaw State very fondly.
“My experience at Kennesaw has been a blessing and the biggest things that I’m going to remember are the relationships and the memories I’ve made with my teammates, my coaching staff, with my professors, with other students,” Burks said. “It’s been so awesome. The professors were always great to me. They didn’t care if I was a football player, which I liked.”
Finishing with an undergraduate grade-point average of 3.9, Burks’ academic career went smoothly at KSU. However, his path to becoming the Owls’ most heralded football player in history was a little different.
“In 2014, I tore my ACL and that was a huge, humbling experience for me,” Burks said. “I believe everything happens for a reason and I was able to learn behind (Kennesaw State’s first starting quarterback) Trey White, who was a transfer from The Citadel. He is not only a good player, but he is a phenomenal friend. I still stay in touch with him and he’s a huge Kennesaw fan.”
Burks’ knee injury set him back. After missing the inaugural Black and Gold spring game in March 2015, he returned to the field for fall practice as KSU was preparing for its first season.
“Mentally, I was fine,” Burks said. “I did all the necessary steps, but physically getting myself back to where I needed to be to play football was probably the most challenging part.”
Besides excelling as a student and quarterback at Kennesaw State, Burks somehow found time to also work and serve as an intern.
“I’ve worked since my junior year of high school,” Burks said. “I’ve worked at Stars and Strikes for almost six years, I did internships the last three summers and now I’m working with the (KSU) football program. I always wanted to stay busy and at a very young age, my parents instilled those core values in the home.
“The reason why I was here was to get a degree, and then secondary was to play sports,” Burks said. “If I would have gone to Coach Bohannon with bad grades, I would have been scared, terrified. And then my parents would have been ticked too, so I just wanted to make sure I make my parents and everybody proud.”
Burks, now a student assistant coach with the Owls, is extremely happy to be a part of the university’s alumni family.
“I take a lot of pride in it,” Burks said. “I’m a first generation graduate, the first to walk across the stage with a bachelor’s degree in my family. That’s something that I hope creates a precedent in our family from here on out.”
Looking back at his time as an undergrad, Burks mentioned a few instructors who made an impact on him.
“In my major, Dr. (Christopher) Brown, Dr. (Joshua) Pitts and Dr. (Jimmy) Calloway are three that definitely stick out to me the most,” Burks said. “Also, I had Shannon Shumate for accounting and she was absolutely awesome.”
Burks was a full-time graduate student last fall semester and is still taking classes at Kennesaw State while assisting the football team.
“I’m pursuing a leadership certificate,” Burks said. “I’m fascinated with leadership so I took four courses in the fall and I’m taking two currently but picking up a third to finish out that certificate.”
Inspired by Coach Bohannon, among others, Burks now has his sights set on becoming a college football coach. He is presently gaining experience at KSU, but would like to move on at some point to influence and better another program.
“I’m actually currently looking for a graduate assistant job elsewhere,” Burks said. “I’m just ready for the new chapter in my life. Kennesaw has given so much to me and I want to be able to branch out a little bit and see what else is out there. You get to that point in life where it’s time to move on.”
In aspiring to coach college football, Burks feels his experience with the Owls and even before that is something he can share to make other programs successful.
“I’m not getting into the profession for fame, notoriety or anything like that,” Burks said. “I’m getting into the profession because of what was given back to me from my coaches, all the way from my dad who coached me when I was young, from high school to college. The biggest thing for me is to inspire young men and show them, through my coaching and my experiences, what the right way is in life. I want to be with a great coaching staff that’s similar to what I played for. I want to be able to add value to young men’s lives, and I’m pretty excited for it.”
Burks mentioned that he is a big fan of Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney. With Burks’ work ethic and desire to excel in whatever he does, maybe someday he will be making millions of dollars per year and be a national-championship winning coach, just like Swinney.
- KSU -