Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. Murphy was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hog Futures: Kelin Burrle:
Speedy courtship produced results
Kelin Burrle had nine interceptions in his prep career and 105 tackles as a senior at Helen Cox High in Louisiana.
The 13th in a series featuring newcomers to the University of Arkansas football team.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman had about nine days to cobble together his first early signing class Dec. 18.
None of those signees was less expected than linebacker Kelin Burrle (pronounced Key-lin Burl) of metro New Orleans.
A longtime commitment to Texas-San Antonio, Burrle backed off from the Roadrunners after Coach Frank Wilson was fired Dec. 1. As a December graduate and early enrollee, Burrle had precious little time to find a new college destination.
The 13th in a series featuring newcomers to the Arkansas football team.
Height/weight 6-0, 223 pounds
Age 19 (Born Feb. 16, 2001)
Hometown Harvey, La.
High School Helen Cox High
Noteworthy Three-year team captain for the Cougars of Helen Cox High School. ... Rated the No. 22 player in Louisiana by Rivals. ... Racked up 105 tackles and 3 interceptions as a senior, along with 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. He had 6 interceptions as a junior. ... Helped his high school to its first playoff win in more than a decade in 2018. ... Multisport standout also ran legs on the sprint relay teams in high school. ... Four-year varsity letter winner. ... Picked Arkansas over Louisiana-Lafayette and strong interest from Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Texas-San Antonio, West Virginia and others.
Enter the Razorbacks. Pittman was at Burrle’s school, Helen Cox High in Harvey, La., checking on defensive back Donovan Johnson — who would go on to sign with Virginia — when opportunity knocked.
“We were at his school looking at the safety they had, and they threw tape up on [Burrle] and I liked it,” Pittman said.
Pittman brought the tape back to campus and showed it to defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
“Barry Odom and I sat in here and looked at it, and we decided to offer him a scholarship,” Pittman said. “He’ll hit you and he can run, so we’re glad to have him.”
Burrle, who had nine interceptions in his prep career and 105 tackles as a senior, said early December was a whirlwind.
“To me it was crazy,” Burrle said. “Probably like two weeks before signing day, they hit me up. They came to school and watched my film, and it was like they wanted me.
“It felt good that Arkansas offered me. At the end of the day, I felt wherever I went it was a good thing, and we’re just going to go on a new journey to make the team better.”
Burrle joined a lengthy string of recent defensive signees for the Razorbacks out of south Louisiana, including Henre Toliver, Otha Peters, De’Jon Harris, Joe Foucha, Andrew Parker and Devin Bush.
Jordon Sennett, Burrle’s high school position coach, touted his assets.
“He’s a coach’s player, a great kid, highly focused, with superior athleticism for his size,” Sennett said. “He’s a natural leader and a sideline-to-sideline guy.
“He can roll down from the safety or play any linebacker position you have, whether it’s the sam, will or the mike. I think he’s very versatile. His athleticism is very attractive, and him growing will only make him a better athlete and a student of the game.”
Burrle looks like a heat-seeking missile on his highlight tape, navigating through blockers to strike ball carriers and having above-average hands and ball skills.
“Getting through traffic for him was just second nature, like he can sniff out a screen in a second,” Sennett said.
“It’s my speed and aggressiveness and my mentality that nobody can mess with me because I’m from New Orleans,” Burrle said when asked about his best attributes.
“Kelin, first of all, he’s a really good kid,” Arkansas linebackers coach Rion Rhoades said. “He has definitely benefitted from being here.
“He can run. He does have a lot of ability. He’s really picked stuff up pretty good. I think he’s gonna be a good player here for us, and I think he’s going to be really good for the locker room, just because of the type of person he is. He’s a good team player.
“He is a physical kid, and he’s very willing to put his face on people. I think he’s got a good skill set, and I’m encouraged by the way he learns.”
Burrle said time management was the top thing he learned during about eight weeks on campus before the coronavirus pandemic suspended on-campus activities in mid-March.
“Kelin is continuing to develop in a number of things, the adjustment phase of going from high school to a midyear grad and living on your own, living in the dorms,” Odom said. “Some of those things, it’s an adjustment phase for everybody. But I’m so happy that we got him and [fellow early enrollee] Myles Slusher, and they’re going to be a step ahead whenever they give us the word.”
Burrle said did not struggle to work out or stay in shape during the pandemic in south Louisiana because a family friend he views as a father figure had a workout facility he could use. He had to sit out for a quarantine period upon his return to the state in June because he came from a designated covid-19 hot spot in the New Orleans area.
Sennett said Burrle’s leadership skills stand out, helping him become a team captain during his final three years. He said one game and one play stick in his mind.
“One game, he had over 25 tackles against Belle Chasse this past season,” Sennett said. “They were a veer team, but he was all over the field that game.
“Then, his junior year against George Washington Carver, he had a 99-yard interception return, and that’s when everybody saw that he could run. He outran some pretty fast guys.”
Burrle laughed when asked about the long touchdown return against Carver.
“It was 103 yards actually,” he said. “It was like a hitch play with the running back. He was doing a wheel. I had told one of my players in the game to watch out for it. I like to look for the ball. I was backpedaling, and I just opened up and the ball just went right in my hands and I took off.”
Burrle said he’s already lived through some rough times — his father has not been in his life, and he was raised by his single mother Lashanona Burrle — so he makes it a point to smile all the time.
“He’s a goofball,” Sennett said. “Smiles all day. One thing that used to upset me about Kelin, we’d be in a tight game and Kelin always had a smile on his face no matter what was going on. It could be the worst situation ever, but Kelin is always optimistic that there is a better outcome.
“And I realized that’s what makes him. He’s a good kid.”
Asked what he’d want fans to know about him, Burrle said, “I smile a lot. There’s not one time that you’re not going to catch me smiling, unless I’m in a game. And I’m still gonna smile sometimes.
“It’s all about my childhood and past. I’ve been through like rough things. I just make sure I stay on the positive side because I know ain’t nothing gonna be worse than what I’ve been through before.”
Burrle, who stands nearly 6 feet tall, has added weight since he was listed at 205 pounds as a signee. He said he was 223 pounds in June.
“He’s worked hard,” Pittman said. “We’ve got to get him in better shape. He can run. He’s gained some weight — good weight. He’s done a nice job. He’s a respectful kid, and I like him. I’m glad we’ve got him.”
Burrle said position coach Rion Rhoades had talked to him about starting out as a weak-side linebacker but also learning the middle linebacker spot.
Burrle was asked what he’d need to do to contribute as a freshman.
“What it’ll take for me to get on the field is really just understanding the playbook,” he said. “Because I’ve got the physicality and the size to bring to the team. It’s really understanding the playbook. That’s really all.”
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