Inch for inch and pound for pound, few players over the last ten years have packed more punch than linebacker Dantonio Burnette. At a generous 5-10 and 230 pounds, “Thunder Dan” was one of the most ferocious hitters the Wolfpack has seen in recent memory. He was absolutely at his best in goal line and short yardage situations- always seeming to guess the right gap while timing his moves perfectly at the snap of the ball. Oftentimes Burnette looked like a flying missile across the line of scrimmage, usually landing in the chest of an opposing ballcarrier.
While the Wolfpack faithful certainly remember Burnette’s high-flying contributions while in Raleigh, many may not remember that he was actually a highly sought-after linebacker out of Warner Robins, Ga.
Boasting offers from Purdue, East Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina and others, Burnette’s decision ultimately came down to NC State and Mississippi State. Although he had a couple of former teammates already with MSU, Wolfpack assistants Joe Pate and Charlie Fisher sold Burnette on NC State and he joined the Pack in 1999, building on a linebacker corps that had landed standouts Levar Fisher and Edrick Smith a year earlier.
Burnette would go on to become a four year letter winner at NC State, finishing his career with an eye-popping 476 tackles and 41 tackles for loss. He was named first team All-ACC as a senior while serving as team captain for the Wolfpack. In a 2001 contest against Clemson, Burnette collected 24 tackles which tied for second most in school history.
Known as a consistent player that squeezed out every ounce of potential, Burnette may be best remembered for a crushing tackle he made in a Gator Bowl win over Notre Dame back in 2003.
The upstart Wolfpack had put together their best season in years but came into the contest staring down the tradition and history of the Irish.
However, with Notre Dame threatening to score on their second possession of the game, Burnette laid a flying, bone-jarring hit on Notre Dame QB Carlyle Holliday just short of the goal line. The tackle separated Holliday’s shoulder and sent him to the bench for the rest of the game. Notre Dame never seemed to recover and never made it into the endzone from that point forward. State would go on to a 28-6 victory- capping Burnette’s career with the Wolfpack while helping secure the team’s most successful season in school history, finishing with a record of 11-3.
Over the course of his career, Burnette heard time and again that he couldn’t succeed because he wasn’t big enough or fast enough for major, division one football. In the end he proved that heart and desire could overcome any physical shortcomings, even for a position as demanding as linebacker. His production actually helped pave the way for State to target other linebackers who weren’t necessarily considered to have prototypical size.
After spending three years as a graduate assistant coach in the strength and conditioning program, Burnette is now a full time assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Wolfpack.