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Future UCF Athletics Hall of Famers: Joe Burnett

Smokin’ Joe excelled on defense and special teams.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats v Edmonton Eskimos Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

Our look at future UCF Knights Athletics Hall-of-Famers continues with the guy who set the bar for kick returners at UCF, and was a pretty good cover guy, too.

Joe Burnett

Defensive Back/Kick Returner


Tulsa v University of Central Florida Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Joe Burnett came to UCF from Eustis High School (he’s a cousin of Jermaine Taylor), and made an immediate impact on defense and special teams.

Here was Joe’s C-USA East Division-clinching interception at Rice in 2005:

Burnett scored twice on punt returns as a freshman, including in the C-USA Championship against Tulsa.

But amid the spectacular performances on special teams, Smokin’ Joe was shutdown cover guy. He finished his UCF career with 221 total tackles and 16 interceptions.

In his senior year, Joe punctuated his career with a virtuoso performance, as he ranked in the top-10 nationally in both kickoff returns (7th, 28.7) and punt returns (10th, 14.5) with a pair of kickoff return touchdowns.

Joe holds the UCF and Conference USA career records with 1,304 punt return yards, 19th-best in NCAA history. Here’s one of his TDs in the C-USA Championship in 2007 that got UCF going:

Burnett returned a program-record three punt returns for touchdowns, and finished his career as UCF’s leader in interceptions with 16. He was an All-American in 2005 and 2008.

After UCF, Burnett was drafted by the Steelers in 2009. He recorded an interception and a blocked kick in his rookie years, but was released prior to his second season. The Giants briefly picked him up but let him go in the final cuts in 2011.

Green Bay Packers v Pittsburgh Steelers
Joe Burnett as a Pittsburgh Steeler
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Burnett has found a home in the CFL, where he continues to play. In seven seasons with three different franchises, Burnett has played in 82 career games, recording 13 interceptions and scoring four touchdowns, and has been named a CFL All-Star.

Here’s his longest, a 106-yard pick-6 for the Edmonton Eskimos against the BC Lions in 2012:

Burnett played only two games last season for the Montreal Alouettes, following a disappointing end to his 2017 season, as he was left off the Calgary Sampeders’ roster for the 105th Grey Cup in 2017 after playing in the conference championship. The Stamps lost the game in the final moments - a bitter pill for the veteran.

He says he still wants to play and win a Grey Cup, which would add him to a growing list of UCF alumni who have played and won north of the border.