If you read the Virginian-Pilot regularly, you’ll know that we’re doing a “Whatever happened to …” series this summer, catching up with a former 757 athlete each week. My assignment, as the Virginia Tech beat writer, was obviously a Hokie — former running back Keith Burnell.
Burnell, who starred at Western Branch High, is still in the Chesapeake area. After finishing his college career at Delaware and trying to latch on with a couple of NFL teams, he returned home and started a contracting business. But his real passion is mentoring kids, much like a group of people helped him along the way.
Here’s how the story starts:
When he was a wide-eyed 10-year-old, Mike Wyche remembers meeting Keith Burnell, then a running back trying to make it with the Baltimore Ravens.
Wyche, who would go on to star at Oscar Smith High and sign to play at Southern California this fall, ran into Burnell after a camp. Out of the blue, Burnell, who wore size-10 shoes like Wyche, gave him a brand-new pair out of his trunk, one of the first the youngster had ever gotten.
The moment became etched in his memory. Wyche, who had a troubled upbringing, got mixed up in drugs and guns as years progressed and needed a role model.
After a chance meeting years later with Burnell, who by then had started a contracting business and mentored kids on the side, the two formed a close bond – teacher and student, trainer and athlete, big brother and little brother.
Wyche has a good idea where he’d be without Burnell.
“I’d probably be dead or in jail,” he said. “Because I was lost, man.”
He’s not the only kid Burnell has mentored over the years. In fact, it’s probably in the hundreds. Some are names you’ve heard of, but not all.
The 34-year-old former Western Branch and Virginia Tech running back dubbed “Sweet Feet” in his playing days is determined to give back to the community that once helped him.
Read the whole thing here. It’s got stuff about Burnell’s friendship with Michael Vick, him setting the school’s 40-yard dash record and some brutally honest words about how he thought he was treated at Virginia Tech with regards to playing time.