Instead of dwelling on what could be viewed as bad luck, University of Tulsa linebacker Yohance Burnett is counting his blessings.
Since joining the Hurricane as a junior-college transfer, Burnett has twice gone down with season-ending knee injuries during the preseason. After recovering from the most recent setback that wiped out last year, he is back in the starting lineup.
“It’s been a blessing to be back out there with my family and friends, just being able to go out there and play at the highest level with my (teammates),” Burnett said. “You understand how quickly this game can be taken away from you.
“It’s been taken away from me twice, in 2018 and obviously last year. But it’s something that you have to continue to just keep pushing (through), keep moving forward.”
A native of Pearland, Texas, Burnett was new to the team when he sustained a torn ACL in his right knee. He bounced back to appear in every game in 2019, totaling 34 tackles including 2.5 for lost yardage.
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In the days leading up to last year’s opener, he again tore an ACL in practice, this time in his left knee. He was expected to start at middle linebacker and potentially deliver a breakout season.
“He’s gone through two of them now, so he knew the track that he was going to have to take to get back and to be back right,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “He attacked his rehab. He was way ahead of schedule.”
While the Hurricane went on to deliver a thrilling turnaround year in which the defense was the team’s strength, Burnett watched from the sideline, knowing his time was coming.
“It definitely does test your mental toughness,” he said. “As long as you have your brothers with you and your family supporting you and the training staff obviously and the strength staff and the coaches as well, they will always be there to support you and keep you uplifted. That’s something that really helped me throughout my process.”
Burnett — whose first name is pronounced “yo-hahn-see” and means “God’s gift” — stepped back into a starting role this season. He is a valuable piece of the Hurricane defense and has the ability to play any of the three linebacker spots.
“Yohance is a quiet leader that has this air of confidence about him,” Montgomery said. “Guys believe in him. He believes in himself, goes out and makes plays. And he’s a tremendous young man.”
Through the first two games of the season, Burnett has been solid, recording 16 tackles to rank second on the team behind Kendarin Ray’s 19.
“You see the level of play continuing to pick up each and every week,” Montgomery said. “I thought he did some really nice things Week 1, and last week I thought his level even stepped up (more).”
After narrow losses to UC Davis and Oklahoma State, TU is preparing to play at ninth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday. The Buckeyes have averaged 553.5 yards of offense in their first two games.
“They’ve always had a good offense throughout the years there,” Burnett said. “You know it’s going to be a great challenge. I look forward to taking the field with my family and my brothers and go out there and show that we can do.”