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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Hard Feelings From Burnette

Chris Burnette accepted his diploma from Troup High School on Saturday, and Mark Richt wasn't there to see it. Burnette wasn't surprised by the absence of his soon-to-be coach, but the story behind it came as a shock.

"I was just in school trying to make sure I had my classes and my work done right and trying to see where I could graduate, and it turned out to be something big with him trying to come to graduation," Burnette said. "It was a national story, and I never thought it was going to even get out of our house when he told me he wanted to come. So it was pretty crazy."

Richt had promised Burnette that he would attend the offensive lineman's graduation if he was his school's valedictorian. Burnette fell just short of that honor, but Richt still hoped to attend. As it turned out, however, the NCAA put the brakes on that plan because it would violate recruiting rules.

Georgia officials appealed to the NCAA for a waiver, but it was not granted, something Burnette said has already taught him a valuable lesson about life as a college football player.

"It probably is a good lesson to learn that the NCAA has their ways and what they say goes, I guess," he said.

Burnette never figured that Richt would make it to the graduation anyway. He assumed the ceremony would hardly top Richt's to-do list, figuring the coach would have more important things to do. So rather than being upset about the NCAA's decision, Burnette said he was simply a bit surprised that the story unfolded this way in the first place.

"I was kind of disappointed initially, but after I thought about it, I was just honored that he would even offer to come to one of his recruits graduation," Burnette said. "I figured he was a pretty busy guy and he might have other stuff going on, but I never thought that the NCAA would try to reel it in and get into that."

In the end, Burnette said, the effort Richt put in to trying to make it happen said more than if he had simply watched from the crowd without incident.

"For a coach to put that much effort into coming to a high school graduation just shows me the type of guy that Coach Richt is," Burnette said. "That he's worried about his players, whether they're already on the team or just recruits. I'm just glad he took the time out to try to come when other coaches probably wouldn't even give you the time of day."

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