As football season edges ever closer, one of Northern Virginia’s top defensive players is preparing for a daunting transition. Oren Burks, a standout linebacker at South County Secondary School, will make the jump this season from the Patriot District to the Southeastern Conference, widely recognized as the toughest division of college football in the country.
Burks, who committed to Vanderbilt University last August, is coming off a senior season that saw him put up 123 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, four sacks and three interceptions, according to Rivals.com. An outside linebacker and defensive end during his junior season, Burks was all over the field last year, mixing in plays as an inside linebacker and catching some passes on offense in addition to his role as a kick blocker on special teams.
Ranked the 20th overall prospect from Virginia according to Rivals.com, the 6-foot-3, 203-pound recruit expects to receive a lot of outside coverage jobs and blitz assignments as an outside linebacker at Vanderbilt.
Off the field, Burks graduated with a 3.6 GPA and just finished his first summer session at Vanderbilt last week. When not taking classes with other athletes, he’s participating in workouts and seven-on-seven games in preparation for the official start of practice in early August. He sat down for a phone interview on Monday with Fairfax County Times.
Question: You moved down to Vanderbilt at the beginning of June. What was the thought process behind the early move-in?
Answer: I just really felt like it would be worth it in the end. I had to take four finals and three final projects within like one week to graduate early and then go back for graduation, but in the end it was really worth it. I have time to bond with my teammates and get to know the campus and coaches.
Q: How has the transition been so far? Any culture shock?
A: It’s not much of a culture shock. Everybody is real likable around here. Upperclassmen are doing a great job of working us in. It’s really been great. I’m enjoying it so far.
Q: What are your expectations heading into your freshman season?
A: Just to be the best I can be. I’m not really sure whether I’m going to redshirt or not, but I’m just looking to make the biggest impact, whether it’s on the field or off the field.
Q: You had a long recruiting process that eventually came down to Vanderbilt and the University of Virginia. What was that process like for you?
A: It was a real tough process. It was very long, but with my family’s support I just came to the right decision. Just being in the SEC with this education, you really can’t beat it. Coach [James] Franklin has really done a great job of rallying us around him, and we’re really looking forward to the future we have with this team.
Q: You are part of what many consider to be Vanderbilt’s best-ever recruiting class this year. Why do you think the program’s recruiting seems to be getting better every year?
A: I think players are starting to see how much this program is progressing and where it’s going to be. They’re not looking at what it is right now; they’re putting stock into what can be one of the best teams in the nation. There really is no limit to what we can do.
Q: What are your impressions of Nashville compared to Fairfax Station?
A: I wouldn’t say it’s too much different. It’s taken a little adjusting, but I’m liking it so far. The campus is beautiful. Downtown Nashville is not that far away, so you’re really accessible to everything that you can see in Nashville. Going to see the fireworks downtown for Fourth of July and having live music and all that stuff is awesome.
Q: Favorite high school memory?
A: Probably just the 2011 season and our run to the state championship. Just being around that group of guys and then the transition from that year to my senior year was just awesome.
Q: Your sister Whitney, a rising senior at South County, verbally committed to play college softball at Stanford. How do you feel about that decision?
A: I’m real proud of her. She’s worked her butt off. I just can’t put into words how much work she’s put in, and I’m real proud of her. Her decision to go to Stanford, you really can’t beat that education, and being out west, that’s the perfect thing for her. So I’m really happy for her.
Q: What improvements do you need to make to excel in the SEC?
A: Obviously get bigger, faster, stronger, but I definitely want to look more into studying the game. I think that’s going to be a bigger part of the sport than being in high school, where you can just run around almost like with your head chopped off. You really have to be a student of the game, so that’s what I’m looking to develop.