Junior Chandler Burks (3) hands off to sophomore TJ Reed (8) in the first half of a game at Kennesaw Sate University's Fifth Third Bank Stadium Saturday, November 11, 2017. Special/
Photo: Daniel Varnado
Photo: Daniel Varnado

The first Kennesaw State Owl, Chandler Burks leads by serving

Coach Brian Bohannon set lofty goals more than three years ago before the Kennesaw State football program began … win conference championships and win national championships. 

Now in the midst of its first playoff run, the first player who committed to that goal is under center leading a dynamic offense for the Owls. 

Chandler Burks came out of South Paulding High School as an undersized player who didn’t have a clear position. His list of official scholarship offers began and ended with Kennesaw State. Still, Bohannon saw certain qualities and intangibles in him, and Burks gave Kennesaw State its first commitment.

At South Paulding, Burks played some quarterback, cornerback and a variety of other positions. Bohannon remembered Burks as “about a 5-9 redheaded kid who ran OK, but possessed all the other qualities that makes him who he is.” He didn’t run the option at all, but Bohannon doesn’t worry about that. He looks for skillful running, passing, toughness and leadership in potential quarterbacks -- all things that he felt Burks possessed. 

Coming in, Burks knew nothing about the offense. Three years later, he’s challenging Bohannon and coaches in the film room and on the field to know the offense as well as they do. On Friday walk-throughs, Bohannon lines up with the defense and throws different looks at Burks and the offense. He said the two of them developed a healthy competition as Burks rivaled him by making the right checks at the line of scrimmage. It created a bit of chatter for a few weeks.

“That’s just who he is. He wants to know it all,” Bohannon said.

It didn’t come that easily to Burks, but he worked hard to mentally prepare for the option, and he also received some key help along the way from former KSU quarterback Trey White. 

“I came in not knowing much about the offense, and Trey White … with the experience not only in the offense, but with the experience playing college ball … and me being able to learn from him payed huge dividends for me,” Burks said. “I’m very thankful for him and I still talk to him. We’re very close friends, and I’m grateful for him for everything he did for me in this process of learning the offense and learning how to navigate and distribute and do great things on the field like he did.”

By learning and understanding the offense off the field, Burks credits it to being able not to think about it. With game reps, he said he now can just go out there and react and play. He’s played to the tune of an 11-1 record as he’s efficiently run the Owls offense on their way to second round of the FCS playoffs Saturday at Jacksonville State. 

On the field, Bohannon believes Burks’ best trait as a quarterback is his overall management of the offense. The handling and distribution of the ball in the option is tricky and often is determined in a split second as the quarterback meshes with the B-back. 

“I think he executes the offense, distributes the ball, and the best thing he does is there’s very seldom negative plays with him,” Bohannon said. “He hasn’t been turning the ball over. He understands our offense. … I mean he knows what’s going on and where everyone should be. He can kind of navigate things in a game that most guys can’t do. His ability to get the ball distributed to the right people, and that means making the right reads, and taking care of the football and no negative plays has just been off the charts.”

Off the field, Burks is unanimously the leader of the Kennesaw State football team -- something that’s always a plus, but not necessarily the case with the quarterback. Each player who speaks of Burks typically mentions the word “leader” within the first couple of sentences.

“I’ve kind of had a natural knack for that,” Burks said. “My parents instilled in me at a very young age leadership characteristics and things like that. One thing that I learned most recently is before you can lead, you have to serve others … make sure guys understand that I’m here for them and that if they’re going to listen to me, they have to know that I have their back.” 

Bohannon relayed the unanimous belief of Burks being a true leader for the Owls.

“He’s never wavered, always there for the team … ‘what do we need to do,’” he said. “He’s a special kid. I can’t articulate it very well, but he’s special.”

Now with Kennesaw State looking to take one more step toward its top goal of a national title against an established program in Jacksonville State, the Owls will look again to their quarterback to lead the way. Bohannon struggles to process just how special of a moment it is for the first player to jump on board of the program he worked so hard to sell lines up under center during the run. 

“I probably haven’t had enough time to reflect on all of this, but it’s almost surreal some of the stuff that’s gone on here,” he said. “We had a vision and they bought into it. Chandler is the leader of our football team, no two ways about it. For him to make that commitment early and buy into it and go through adversity … torn ACL and then not playing, and here we are today and he’s leading us on a playoff run. 

It’s really special. We’ve been on such a ride that I don’t think any of us have had time to reflect. You don’t want the ride to end. You don’t want to blink and all of the sudden for it to end. But it has been special.”