In his playing days at UCF, smokin' Joe Burnett was known for his ability to make plays everytime the ball was in his hands.
Two years after his stellar career with the Knights, the Central Florida Future caught up with former All-American returner and cornerback, Burnett, who now has a fresh start with the New York Giants.
Central Florida Future: What have you been up to lately?
Joe Burnett: I've been training down in Aventura, being that I was a free agent and I was working out and staying in shape. I've been training with Pete Bommarito, the same guy I came up with as a rookie. Right now, I'm hanging out in Eustis with the family.
CFF: What led up to free agency?
Burnett: Well, I went through the whole preseason, and made it all the way through to the last cut with the Steelers. Ever since then, I've been to six workouts with six different teams. Every coach was highly impressed with me, but I was ineligible to be signed onto a practice squad and I had to be signed to a 52-man roster. The wait took a long time, actually — a whole season.
CFF: What was that conversation like with the Steelers when they made the move to release you?
Burnett: I spoke to [Steelers] coach [Mike] Tomlin and he said it was a business decision that they had to make. It was basically between me and another guy, Keenan Lewis. He was a higher-round draft pick than I was and they said that if I was the third-round guy, then maybe the predicament would be different. You know, they were actually trying to trade me instead of letting me go. I was on the radar with two other teams to be traded, but they backed out, and that's when I went on waivers.
CFF: And now you have a fresh start with the Giants.
Burnett: As soon as teams were able to sign players, the Giants were the first to call. The Giants said, if we could have put you on the practice squad, you would have been on the team a long time ago, but you weren't eligible.
CFF: Why weren't you eligible?
Burnett: As a rookie, I played too much. For a good part of the season, I was a starter with the Steelers and if you start too many games as a rookie you become ineligible to be signed on a practice squad.
CFF: So when does camp start for the Giants?
Burnett: I talked to the coach [Tom Coughlin] there and he basically said to me that they're going through the whole lockout situation now. He said that as soon as they reach an agreement, they'll reach out to me. I'm really excited for the fresh start.
CFF: Do you think they'll reach an agreement soon?
Burnett: I think it'll be worthwhile. That's a lot of money on the table to be lost if they don't. Without football this season, it'll be a huge loss. I think they'll reach an agreement before August. We might miss a preseason game but I don't think it'll roll into the regular season.
CFF: The Giants (ranked second-to-last in kick return average and last in punt return average) could use some help at the return man position.
Burnett: Wherever I can contribute and help the team out, I will.
CFF: What do you think is your biggest asset you bring to New York?
Burnett: I can play multiple positions. I'm a cornerback, nickelback, punt returner and kick returner. I'm versatile. I'm not just a defensive back, I'm a return man as well. With both positions, I have great instincts. I'm a quick learner, and I'm ready to work.
CFF: So, where is a country boy from Eustis going to be staying at in New York?
Burnett: Being that I am a country boy, I'd like to stay somewhere in the suburbs in New Jersey.
CFF: What do you miss the most about UCF?
Burnett: Aww, man. Everything. You name it, I miss it. I miss the fan base, the students' support. I miss the brotherhood with my teammates. Just being able to be around that environment, it was awesome. I tell everyone that I'm so proud to be a Knight.
CFF: How ‘bout them Knights?
Burnett: I so proud of my school. I'm very proud to be a Knight. It's unbelievable how that program has grown so much under coach O'Leary. All the respect goes out to that staff and O'Leary. In the NFL, before we play our games on Sunday, all the guys in the locker room talk about college football games. And now I can finally talk about UCF. It feels real good to be a part of that.
CFF: Who would you consider to be the Knights' MVP this past season?
Burnett: The quarterback, [Jeff] Godfrey. He's real good. Young, but real good. As long as he stays humble, he'll do really well and he'll be great for UCF for years to come.
CFF: What's your Super Bowl prediction?
Burnett: I really want to see the young quarterback [Mark Sanchez] win it for the Jets but it's gonna be tough to go against the Steelers. I'm gonna say that [defensive coordinator] Dick LeBeau and the defense will win it for the Steelers. Steelers over Packers.
CFF: So you still have a little place in your heart for the Steelers?
Burnett: True story, I want the Steelers to win.
CFF: What's your biggest goal this season?
Burnett: Just to positively contribute to the New York Giants and to get out everything that I have put into it.