When Sports Illustrated reached out to Ronnie Burnette via YouTube, he thought it was some kind of joke.
How did the national magazine stumble across videos of his 10-year-old son, Cameron, playing for his youth football team? And why would they want to feature him?
But it wasn’t a joke. SI made contact with the Summerville family and did interviews and photo shoots for the magazine’s “20 Under 20” kids’ edition.
“I was concerned for a kid that young having to handle all of this,” Ronnie Burnette remembers. “But he handled it really well, almost like it was supposed to happen.”
That was in 2009, when Cameron Burnette was a 4-foot-9, 85-pound running back. Today, the 19-year-old is a 6-2, 205-pound wide receiver at Furman.
And if things break the right way, he may help the Paladins clinch a Southern Conference title Saturday when Furman plays at Mercer.
The little kid who would go on to play for Summerville High School was the only 10-year-old in that 2009 Sports Illustrated edition. Also featured were Matt Barkley, a young quarterback at Southern Cal who now plays for the Buffalo Bills; and Bryce Harper, an MVP with the Washington Nationals who was a high school baseball star when SI for Kids reached out.
Of course, Burnette didn’t know any of that as a fifth grader. He was just excited to be in such a cool magazine.
“There was a little pressure moving forward because something like that stays with you,” he said Wednesday, just before heading into a team meeting. “But when it happened, I just remember my teammates and friends being really happy for me.”
Fast forward to the present, and he is still making headlines for his play on the field. In Furman’s Oct. 27 game against the Citadel, Burnette caught four passes for 71 yards in the Paladins' 28-17 victory.
“What’s most impressive is that he’s doing all of this and is only a sophomore,” said Furman coach Clay Hendrix. “We're really excited for his future with the program.”
The Paladins started out 0-3 this season but have won five of their last six games. This weekend they could capture their first SoCon championship since 2013, when they shared the title with Chattanooga and Samford.
Burnette has 18 catches and 235 yards on the season for a team that ranks fourth in the conference in rushing yards and relies less on its passing game. In short, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“It’s not easy for guys as talented as him. We know he wants the ball more, and we have to get it to him,” Hendrix said. “But he helps us in so many other ways and really buys into what we’re doing here,” Hendrix said.
The Paladins (5-4 overall, 5-2 SoCon) will need some help if they are going to win the SoCon. In addition to winning their game, they need Wofford and East Tennessee to lose.
Regardless of the outcome, Burnette is proud of how the team has responded to the setbacks.
“We’ve bounced back from our slow start and now have a little destiny in our hands,” he said.
Ronnie Burnette will be there. He’s only missed one game during Cam’s time at Furman: a September 2017 matchup against Colgate in Upstate New York.
That was the game Cam scored his first touchdown as a collegiate athlete. It was a 61-yard reception early in the first quarter.
“I was watching it on TV, so it was bittersweet not being there,” Ronnie Burnette said.
That day he vowed not to make the same mistake twice.