SAND HILLS — The only problem facing Chandler Burkett these days is where he’ll be playing college football.
But that’s a pretty good problem considering the alternative.
The Bozeman senior finished his most productive season on defense, leading the Bucks in tackles and spearheading an attack that led to a postseason berth. His statistics and value to the unit helped him rise above the rest and he was named The News Herald’s Bay County Defensive Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder made the switch to linebacker as a senior to fill a major need on defense. He played defensive end for three seasons before moving and admitted trepidation.
“At first I was worried I wouldn’t be able to adapt, but we needed to fill the spot from a good player, Isaiah Robbins,” Burkett said. “But it ended up being one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I really did enjoy it and it gave me a little more freedom.”
The additional roaming on the field led to Burkett amassing 122 tackles, including 88 solo and 15 for loss. He managed to record one sack and still found time to pressure a quarterback or two despite not lining up in the three-point stance. He had a hand in five defended passes, five fumbles, three recovered, blocked a punt and returned one for a score as well as forcing a safety.
Bozeman coach Loren Tillman said having Burkett in the middle of the field caused more havoc. He not only could rush the passer, but was counted on as a run stopper and in pass coverage. The well-rounded skill set was attractive to college scouts.
“There was a lot of learning, that’s real,” Tillman said. “He was coachable and he never complained. You don’t get that from everybody. He had a lot of fun.”
The most fun came during Bozeman’s game against Chipley. Burkett shared quarterback Jacob Martinez’s sentiment in that the contest was the highlight of the season. The 49-14 victory against the Tigers helped set the tone for the playoff push and was one of the biggest games in school history.
“We all bonded from that game,” Burkett said. “We went out there and did what it took to win.”
Burkett verbally committed to FIU before last season. However, FIU fired coach Mario Cristobal earlier this month and Burkett said he is revaluating his options. He said offers from Maryland and FAU are still in play and regardless of his choice he will be signing with a Division I school come February.
“Right now I’ll wait and see what happens,” Burkett said. “I’d like to make my choice before signing day (in February), but right now I don’t know. I could find interest in others places or from others I’ve been offered.”
Burkett said he will likely be used a hybrid at outside linebacker/defensive end, which is his more natural and comfortable position, in college. He has room on his frame to pack on some weight to aid in his transition to performing just as well in college as he did in high school.
His signing will be the culmination of a goal Tillman and his coaching staff saw coming for a long time, as they witnessed Burkett’s blossoming into one of the area’s best defenders.
“I always had the idea that this would happen,” Burkett said. “It shows that anything’s possible.”