As usual, California will be home to some outstanding pass catchers in the 2022 class, and tight end Keyan Burnett (Anaheim, Calif./Servite) is up there toward the top of the list.
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound tight end is coming off a season where he caught 22 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore at San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) JSerra, but transferred to Anaheim (Calif.) Servite earlier this year. He’ll head into his junior season as the nation’s No. 199 overall prospect and a top-20 recruit in California.
He’ll also help give the Friars a dynamic one-two punch through the air, as he teams with five-star wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, who caught 65 passes for 851 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore last season.
He’s also a two-way player, as he lines up at defensive end and outside linebacker. He had two sacks last season and said Nebraska and a few other schools like him as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. That would be a fitting spot for him, as his father, Chester Burnett, played outside linebacker at Arizona and in the NFL with the Redskins, Jaguars and Browns. And while Burnett said he’s willing to line up at whatever position helps the team, his mindset is more on the offensive side of the ball.
As far as USC goes, the Trojans extended an offer back in February and Burnett has developed a relationship with head coach Clay Helton, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and tight ends coach John David Baker, who was the coach who extended the offer.
“It’s been great getting to know all the coaches,” Burnett said, adding that he’s been impresses by Baker’s recuiting. “You can tell his love for the game and he’s really into what he does and his job. He’s trying to develop relationships with guys. It’s been great.”
Tight end has become an interesting position when it comes to USC football. On one hand, it produced just 15 receptions during the 2019 season. But that doesn’t tell the whole story of the position’s effectiveness last year under Harrell, or the future vision shared by Harrell and Baker.
Burnett said USC is recruiting him as a tight end/wide receiver hybrid, and the focus has been on the impact he can make in the passing game. When it comes to his potential future spot in the USC offense, it’s not film of USC tight ends Erik Krommenhoek and Josh Falo that he’s watching.
“It’s a lot of Drake London,” Burnett said of the film he’s shown in terms of where he’d fit into the offense. “I feel like that’s a great position, especially for me. I can get mismatches with safeties and outside linebackers.”
London was hugely impactful as a true freshman in 2019. He made the season’s first big play, catching a short pass on the second snap of the season and turning it into a 45-yard gain. And he ended the season on a hot streak, catching a touchdown pass in each of the final five games of the season, with back-to-back 100-yard receiving games against Cal and UCLA to close the regular season.
The preference for USC’s offense clearly is to have a big receiver there who can be a weapon in the passing game, but also chip in when it comes to the running game. Despite the lack of production on the field from players specifically designated “tight ends,” the USC coaches have hit that position hard on the recruiting trail.
The Trojans hold a commitment in the 2021 class from Lake McRee (Austin, Tex./Lake Travis) and are aggressively chasing four-star tight end prospect Michael Trigg (Tampa, Fla./Carrollwood Day), who is set to make a commitment announcement on Oct. 11. In the 2022 class, USC has offered four of the nation’s top eight tight ends, including three California prospects in Burnett, Jack Pedersen (Murrieta, Calif./Vista Murrieta) and Sam Roush (San Jose, Calif./Valley Christian). And according to Burnett, USC coaches have a vision for that spot to produce the way London did last season, when he caught 39 passes for 567 yards and five touchdowns.
“One of the things coach Baker told me is there are not a lot of schools you can go to that play my position and have 1,000 yards receiving,” Burnett said. “But I’d be able to do that from this kind of position they play.”
Burnett’s physical ability as a pass catcher is evident, and the four-star prospect said his skills on that side of the ball come naturally to him. Asked to break down his abilities on that side of the ball that make him stand out, Burnett said he prides himself on a couple of areas.
“My ability to catch the ball in traffic, high pointing the ball and getting it through contact,” Burnett said. “Also, my blocking as a receiver and a tight end.”
Burnett is hearing from plenty of other schools, including Arizona State, Colorado, Nebraska and Washington at this point. He said Arizona State gave him a great virtual visit recently and he plans to do one with Washington in the next few weeks. Burnett said the virtual visits don’t compare at all with actually stepping foot on the campuses, but that schools have done a great job with them considering the circumstances. He said trips to see the Huskies and Sun Devils are definitely on the agenda once he’s able to take trips again.
At this point, Burnett isn’t in a hurry to rush into a commitment, but he also doesn’t see himself carrying it all the way until his signing day. He said right now he’s looking to make a commitment sometime after the season, possibly in May or June.
For now, he’s able to practice twice a week with Servite and at least go over some offensive installs. While it isn’t anything resembling a full practice, he said it’s nice to get back out on the field at least. It’s also given him a sense of this Servite team, which has a few impact pieces and a dynamic quarterback in 2022 prospect Noah Fifita.
“We’re putting together something special,” Burnett said of a Friars team that will look to contend in the always-difficult Trinity League. “It’s definitely possible. We’re looking for a championship.”