At Home Away From Home

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The opportunity presented itself, but it wasn't really an opportunity.

Stay closer to home in California and wear the baby blue of UCLA.

But there was something, actually one person, preventing Deon Burnett from saying yes to Bob Toledo and the Bruins.

Namely star tailback Deshaun Foster.

"Me and my dad sat down and made a list of goals," Burnett says. "And one of those goals was to play early."

Something not likely with Foster entrenched as UCLA'a starter in the backfield.

With that in mind, Burnett left Upland, Calif. and headed north to Pullman, Wash.

"He felt like he could have a home up here," Washington State head coach Mike Price says. "Be the big fish in a little pond."

And despite trading Southern California weather for that of Washington, Burnett remains happy with his decision.

"Pullman's great for me," Burnett says. "You'll have class with 60 people. Then you'll see 20 of them at McDonald's and 20 of them at Burger King. I've made a lot of friends I wouldn't have made at another school."

For WSU, recruiting Burnett was a no-brainer.

"It was an easy decision," Price says "I offered him a scholarship based on his junior (of high school) tapes."

Upon his arrival, Burnett didn't take long to make his presence known in the Pacific Northwest.

By the third game of last season, Burnett had cracked the starting lineup and rewrote the Cougars' freshman record books.

By season's end, Burnett owned records for most yards in game (136) and season (974) by a freshman.

Burnett also managed to set freshman records for touchdowns (12), including four in a game against Louisiana-Lafayette for another record.

His 10 starts also topped any other freshman running back in WSU history.

Burnett's impressive first-year marks led to him being named honorable mention All-Pac-10.

And more accolades are likely, if his freshman campaign is any idication of what's to come.

"He's got a lot of good runs left in him," Price says.

Burnett says his running through college defenses only months removed from high school isn't based on anything special that made him unstoppable.

"There's nothing in particular I do or try to focus on," Burnett says. "I try to mix it up (running style) and not be so predictable."

Part of his success can be credited to the coaching staff, which gives the sophomore chances to grind out yards up the middle, while also allowing him to be elusive on the outside with their play calls.

Burnett also credits the Cougars coaching staff for his fast start.

"The coaches brought me along real slow," Burnett said. "They put me in where I felt comfortable."

It also didn't hurt that WSU had two running backs transfer prior to the 1999 season, opening the door for Burnett to come in and make an impact.

And since taking over starting duties, Burnett has amassed 1,154 yards on the ground, including 180 this season on 4.7 yards a carry.

The amount of yards has been a disappointment to Burnett this season.

But things might be turning around for the Southern California native.

More than half of his total - 98 yards - came last week against Idaho.

"(The season) hasn't gone as good as I envisioned it," Burnett says. "I thought I'd have more yards by now."

And after reaching the end zone a dozen times last season, Burnett has yet to carry the ball across the goal line this season.

Burnett says he can't blame his numbers on anyone but himself.

"The coaches have called my number," Burnett says.

The more pressing issue for Burnett is not his own stats, but WSU's wins and losses. Even though his first collegiate 100-yard game came last season against Cal, Burnett isn't simply looking to gain yards, but to even the Cougars' record at 2-2.

"It sucks," Burnett says. "We're usually picked to lose."

But the sophomore believes that being known as the conference cellar dwellar can be used to the team's advantage.

"We can use it to our benefit," Burnett says. "A lot of teams will sleep on us."

Coming up in football, Burnett said his parents, Carmen and Marvin were instrumental in his development.

"They were a rock for me," Burnett says.

His father, was especially helpful in his on-the-field development.

"(My father) taught me to be more of a student of the game," Burnett says. "How to play the game from the neck up."

Burnett sees studying football as crucial to success on the field.

"That's 50 percent of the game," Burnett says. "Knowing what the defense likes to do and their tendencies."

When he's not carrying the ball for WSU, Burnett loves to get away from the game with a good book.

"It's cool to get away from football," Burnett said. "You appreciate it more."

Unfortunately, the rigors of being a student-athlete has taken Burnett away from lounging with a book as much as he'd like.

"College life has taken me away from reading like I should," Burnett says.

Still, Burnett had no problem naming his favorite book, Intensity, by his favorite author Dean Koontz.

The book details a psychology student's weekend, trying to escape a murderer on a killing spree.

Oddly enough, Burnett, a criminal justice major, might deal with such characters in real life once he is done with football.

"I want to be cop," Burnett says. "The law fascinates me."

And as long as Burnett keeps his encounters with police to discussions about future career plans and doesn't get shackled by opposing defenses, WSU will look to Deon Burnett to help carry the Cougars to victories.


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