Burnett to Return For 2004

Tennessee's football program got good news this afternoon, when one of its best players announced he'll be back for the 2004 season.

Grinning broadly, junior linebacker Kevin Burnett shredded his prepared statement and announced at a Thursday news conference that he will return for his senior season as a Vol.

Seconds earlier, Burnett had told a dozen assembled media types that he had ''decided to forego my senior year and enter the 2004 Draft.'' When the unexpected announcement stunned his listeners, he stunned them again by ripping his notes in half and adding: ''Not really. I'm coming back to school. I just wanted to have a little fun with you guys.''

Following some nervous laughter, Burnett opened the floor to questions. The first, of course, concerned the key factor in his decision.

''There was so much to be weighed that it could have went either way,'' he said, ''so why not play? We have a good opportunity with a good team coming back. I like Tennessee so much, why not play?''

Burnett added that money ''wasn't really an issue.'' In fact, he noted that college football ''is a game, and the NFL is a business. So I had to ask myself, 'Was I really ready for the business aspect of it?' ''

Already holding degree in business management, Burnett said he ''wasn't ready to deal with the decision-making process,'' particularly one that involved ''my livelihood'' and millions of dollars.

He went on to say that Tennessee's disappointing Peach Bowl loss to Clemson ''definitely'' affected his decision to return, adding: ''I don't want to go out on a losing note. I wasn't happy with the bowl game, and I don't think anybody around the Tennessee program was. I definitely want to go out a winner.''

Surprisingly optimistic, Burnett says he has just one goal for 2004.

''Really, my only goal is to win the national championship,'' he said. 'Everything else will fall into place.''

Whatever Tennessee's chances of winning the national title might be in 2004, they're enhanced significantly by the return of Kevin Burnett. And that, unlike his news conference, is no joke.

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