Of all the seniors on the 2012 Trojans football team, no one took a more unique path into the program than Tony Burnett. Originally entering USC as a track and field athlete from nearby Los Angeles (Calif.) Southwest College in 2009, it wasn't until a chance meeting with Ed Orgeron one day in Heritage Hall that he decided to give football a shot.
Enjoying a breakout 10-tackle performance at safety against Notre Dame in 2010 -- his first season as a member of the team -- Burnett would develop into a major contributor on defense and special teams in his time on campus. Ultimately rewarded with a scholarship by coach Lane Kiffin, he showed tremendous versatility, moving over to cornerback in 2011, and then to linebacker this past season.
Now hoping for a shot at the NFL, Burnett took time out of his busy training schedule to talk to WeAreSC about his thoughts on his career at USC, as well as what's on tap for the future.
WeAreSC: First off, where do you stand in terms of graduation?
Burnett: I'm taking one last biology class. It's a spring-only class, but then I'll have a B.A. in Human Performance from USC.
WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the season ended?
Burnett: I've just been training, taking care of my body, you know, rehab and stuff like that. Obviously, I'm getting ready for pro day ... training hard. So, I'm trying to enjoy the little time that I have with my family because I don't know where I might end up when the phone rings.
WeAreSC: Where are you training at these days?
Burnett: I'm training with this company called EVO in Long Beach.
WeAreSC: In your time at USC you lined up at three different positions in three years. Where do you see yourself playing on the next level?
Burnett: I'm going to go as a safety, but it all depends. Honestly, it doesn't matter to me -- I just want to play. I'm going to go in as a safety, but then I might run fast and they might want me to play corner. I might bench a lot and bulk up and be an outside linebacker -- you never know how it ends up. It all depends on how the team feels that you might best suit them.
WeAreSC: Talk about what it meant to you to play your home games in the Coliseum.
Burnett: It meant a lot. From the Trojan Walk, to rocking the buses when we pulled up ... all of the fans -- there's a lot of them, but you start to recognize them after a couple of years -- you just see that loyalty to SC. And then you walk in the Coliseum, and it's just different. The second you start walking down those steps you just get this feeling that it's go-time. And then you walk in, get dressed, and coming down the tunnel, it's a different thing. The crowd gets louder and louder, you start seeing cardinal and gold as you get lower, and you get to the bottom and look around and it's like, "Whoa. That's 90,000 people." At first I knew what it was, but I didn't really know how special it was until the Notre Dame game -- the last home game. I realized that I would never play there again. It was really an emotional moment for me.
WeAreSC: Looking back on your career at USC, is there a top on-field memory that stands out?
Burnett: Definitely the Notre Dame game from 2010. It was my first chance to ever really get a decent amount of playing time, because I was just on special teams at that point. It was great because I put confidence in my teammates that they could believe in me. I'm not going to lie, I was like, "Whoa, our All-American, T.J. [McDonald], just went down," and I was the only person left. I didn't know what was going to happen, but I just went out there and did what I could do best and what the coaches told me to do, and ended up having a great game.
WeAreSC: Is there a particular coach or two at USC who had an especially profound impact on you?
Burnett: I'd have to say Coach Orgeron for sure, both Kiffins, and then most recently, Coach [Scottie] Hazelton. I say Coach O because he was the one -- when I was walking through Heritage Hall as a track athlete -- who flagged me down to play football. I had thought about it, but I was too timid to really ask, 'Can I play?' SC isn't a program where you can just ask, 'Hey Coach, can I come out?' And now looking back, him coming up and asking me to come play football really changed my life, so I'll always be grateful to Coach O for that.
Coach [Lane] Kiffin, he's the one who gave me the scholarship, so he showed me that he believed in me. And then I say Monte [Kiffin], because I could have been a special teamer my entire career -- he could have just let me sit on the bottom of the depth chart and rot. Each year I moved to a different position, but it was because he was trying to get me on the field. ... And then Coach Hazelton, from literally the first day I met him, we sat in his office for about two hours and we just talked about life. ... He was a really down to earth coach. You always felt like you could talk to him about anything.
WeAreSC: What are you going to miss most about being a student at USC when you wrap things up in the spring?
Burnett: The camaraderie. After college, it's life. After college, people start going into their own careers, start making their own families, and it's really more about progressing as an individual. In college, you just have fun. You have classes with your teammates, you've got classes with regular students, and you push each other to get through those classes. You know, it's like, "This test is going to be hard." -- "Well, let's study for it and do the best we can.' And then on the weekend it's like, "What are we doing this weekend?" That's how it is in college. You always want to find the big party and go have fun, so I'm going to miss that.
WeAreSC: What is your favorite class that you've taken at USC?
Burnett: I'd have to say this one Sports Ethics class. It really opened my eyes to the world of sports. We touched every sport, like cycling, tennis ... everything. And just learning about certain things that are happening in other sports with how much they make, the type of things they do and the type of training regimens, and then the negatives with doping and everything like that ... that was probably one of the best classes that I took at SC.
WeAreSC: Favorite on or off-campus eating spot?
Burnett: On-campus eating spot would have to be the Tutor Center. And then off-campus, I'd have to say Roscoe's.
WeAreSC: If you had one message for USC fans, what would it be?
Burnett: I would just say keep calm and don't panic, because I know those guys, and I know those coaches. They're working hard, and they're going to continue to work hard to make SC the best that they can. And you can't forget that just a year ago we were 10-2, a top five in the AP poll. SC is going to be back on top. I just see so much negativity towards the coaches, towards the program. Everybody is going to have their bad moments, the good times are coming. Don't worry.