A real homecoming: Chandler Burks returns to Kennesaw as coach

Kennesaw State quarterback Chandler Burks eyes a hole near the goaline during Saturday's matchup between Kennesaw State and North Greenville, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (Special by Cory Hancock)
Kennesaw State quarterback Chandler Burks eyes a hole near the goaline during Saturday's matchup between Kennesaw State and North Greenville, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. (Special by Cory Hancock)

Credit: Cory Hancock

Credit: Cory Hancock

For Chandler Burks, Kennesaw State football means everything. From being the school’s first-ever football signee to the team’s star quarterback, the Douglasville native has grown up in step with the young Owls program.

In January, when interviewing for the open quarterbacks’ coach position, Burks was asked a simple question: “Why Kennesaw?”

“I wasn’t able to answer the question because I got choked up,” Burks said. “That’s because of what the Kennesaw State football program, Kennesaw State University and everything that comes with Kennesaw mean to me personally.”

Burks earned the job soon after, joining head coach Brian Bohannon’s strong FCS program and coaching staff. He replaced his old coach and mentor Cody Worley, who moved on to be the quarterbacks coach at Army.

Burks connection to the Kennesaw State program is special. When he saw that the quarterbacks coach position opened up, he immediately called Bohannon to pick his brain about the vacancy. The next day, he called offensive coordinator Grant Chestnut to do the same. After a formal phone interview and an in-person meeting, Kennesaw State offered Burks the job less than two weeks after it opened.

“Coming back was a no-brainer for me,” Burks said. “I always told myself when I got into the coaching profession that I always wanted to be back at Kennesaw State. It didn’t matter when or the timing, it just mattered about getting back at some point. It didn’t matter what position was, I just wanted to be back.”

In 2019, Burks spent his first year following graduation from Kennesaw State at Wofford College as a defensive quality control coach. Just a few months prior, Burks and the Owls downed the Terriers in the second round of the FCS playoffs, but he was impressed that the Wofford defense slowed down his team’s own high-powered offense.

When he arrived at Wofford, he tried to soak up as much wisdom as possible from head coach Josh Conklin and defensive coordinator Sam Siefkes.

“The position at Wofford really gained my interest because I wanted to expand my knowledge football-wise on the defensive side,” Burks said. “I could learn from a new perspective in the coaching world. That year was very crucial to my development as a young coach, being that all I knew was offense. To get the exposure from Wofford, a football program and coaching staff that’s built around success, was phenomenal.”

As a player at Kennesaw State, Burks flourished. He finished his career with 6,453 total yards of offense and 89 total touchdowns, leading the Owls to a 31-6 overall record as the starter. In 2018, his final season, he finished as the runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, a prize given to the top offensive player at the FCS level.

From Bohannon’s perspective, Burks provided unwavering leadership in his years with the program. The Owls head coach sees Burks as the optimal coach for Kennesaw State’s quarterback room this season because of his ability to connect with the young players.

“(Chandler’s) a special kid. All his numbers are great, but he’s a special person and a special leader,” Bohannon said. “I think he’ll do a great job at identifying with these kids and helping them grow. Outside of Tommy (Bryant), it’s a fairly young room. I think it’ll be a really good opportunity for him and those guys to learn and grow together. He’s exceptional and we’re excited to have him back.”

Kennesaw State should feel good about its options at quarterback with season’s opening kickoff just over five months away. Fifth-year senior Tommy Bryant is poised to hold the reins again after racking up 1,140 total yards and 23 total touchdowns in 2019. Jonathan Murphy and Xavier Shepard return to the program after shorter stints last year where they both showed off their elite athleticism.

Bohannon plans to use the quarterbacks in a variety of ways during the season, leaving Burks with the task of developing all three.

“All three guys are capable of being plugged in an being ready to play and win us games on Saturday. (Jonathan and Xavier) are chomping at the bit right on (Tommy’s) heels to push him and make all of them better every single day,” Burks said. “They continued to push each other mentally during those couple days of spring practice. We trust all three of them to go in at any time and be able to operate the offense, which is very crucial to the success of our offense.”

Burks got just eight practices in with the Owls before spring practice was cancelled due to concern over the spread of COVID-19. In that short time, he already saw all three quarterbacks take steps forward.

As far as his own coaching development, Burks knows he has a long way to go.

“My main goal as a coach, for my players, is to develop young men in all aspects of life. I want to make sure that I’m able to develop them to be champions in life because football is going to end one day,” Burks said.

“Me personally, I just want to continue to grow within my knowledge of the game. But I also want to grow as a person to be a mentor for my players throughout the profession. With the years ahead, the knowledge will come. The main thing to keep in mind is my players and focusing on being a great role model for them.”

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