MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU defense has a new head honcho.
At least, that is how he would describe himself.
“I say, ‘head honcho,’ because as a player, I like to tackle people,” WVU safety Aubrey Burks said. “I don’t get uncomfortable coming down and hitting someone hard. But also, I like controlling the defense, as far as being [its] voice.”
As long as he stays healthy, Burks will be roaming the defensive backfield for WVU in a starting role once again this season. In 2022, he started 11 games at safety as a sophomore in which he became the team’s second leading tackler while recording one interception and one forced fumble.
In order to maintain a positive trajectory toward NFL-prospect status, others in his situation may be thinking about increasing their interception total or their 40-yard dash time.
While those are surely on his mind, his emphasis is on a different phase of the game.
“Going into this year I talked to a couple of agents, and they were telling me [that] I need to play more special teams,” he said. “So, one [of] the special teams that I have been playing since the spring is punt. I’ve been a gunner on [the punt team]. I’m just trying to get my speed on that and trying to get some reps to show my versatility.”
In 2022, the Oakridge, Fla., native’s performance was a bright spot among a struggling unit in the secondary that allowed the second most passing yards per game in the Big 12. As a result, the defense leaned on him more than he may have planned.
“I understand last year why I didn’t play much on special teams because I was playing 80 snaps [per game],” he said. “We didn’t have as much [depth] as far as on the back end [of the defense], but this year we added some transfers. So, I’m looking forward to playing some special teams this year.”
Players typically are not going out of their way to plead for snap-count management in order to save room for special teams. It is a rare and unselfish act, especially for a veteran.
“I know if I want to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.” he said.
As for the additions, WVU head coach Neal Brown mentioned Montre Miller (Kent State), Anthony Wilson (Georgia Southern) and Beanie Bishop (Western Kentucky – Minnesota) as potential impact newcomers in the defensive backfield.
“You’ve got to be able to defend the pass,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “If you go back and look at us, we played really good defense for three years. In 2020 we played great defense. But we played really good defense [for three years]. And what we did a good job of is, we gave up some completions, but we kept the ball in front of us. We were able to tackle, and we didn’t give up the home run shots.”
Boosting the secondary was one of the top priorities this offseason for Neal Brown and WVU, and keeping Burks, an AP All-Big 12 second-teamer, fresh for 12 games will undoubtedly go a long way for Jordan Lesley and ShaDon Brown’s defense.
Last year was his healthiest year of football since his junior year of high school, and the results showed.
“Going through a couple obstacles in my life just shaped me into who I am today, and you’re always going to be able to grow as you get older,” Burks said. “You learn new things. You gain new knowledge, and that’s what I’m doing now, just gaining more knowledge, living live, and living it to the fullest.”
Head Honcho and The Jack Boys – the self-tabbed nickname for the defensive back room – can be found establishing camaraderie at the bowling alley on weeknights. Safety Marcis Floyd will likely be leading the group with a score above 200, according to Burks.
Apparently, the title of “head honcho” only extends so far.