The Life and Journey of Travis Burkett

Football is a passion that is not realized right away for some. For some athletes or coaches, there were other opportunities or experiences in life that led to them going into the world of football. However, that is simply not the case for the College Of Sequoias Head Coach Travis Burkett, who cites his interest in football beginning from “age zero, as long he can remember.”

Born in San Luis Obispo, California on August 28, 1980, Burkett began his life and schooling right here in California, just two hours away on the Central Coast, where he would quickly explore his love for football just a few years after graduating from high school.

With his first coaching experience being in the 2003-2004 season with his alma mater of the San Luis Obispo Tigers, a now 20-year career is looming for the Giants head coach who has had his fair share of experience of the sport of football. From high school to semi-pro football, Burkett definitely has a broad knowledge of the sport with his experience alone.

Travis Burkett’s coaching experience in football started as previously mentioned at the aforementioned San Luis Obispo High School, where he led the team as a linebackers coach and special teams coordinator during his tenure coaching for the Tigers. Although this may sound like a traditional route a coach may go down, Burkett’s decision to go overseas and play for the Bergamo Lions is one that is not an everyday sight, especially one that is a part of a high school football coaching staff that acquired an 18-5 record while Burkett was on the sidelines.

Yet, Burkett cites his time going to Italy as one he enjoys, stating “My mom is actually Italian and we have dual citizenship between the US and Italy.” According to Burkett, due to his Italian background, he was actually recruited to come from America to come to play in Bergamo, and then he proceeded to head back to San Luis Obispo and coach as well. “It was exhausting. In a good year, it was a hell of a football year. We went 14-1 in Bergamo and then 10-2 in SLO High. Half the calendar year was football.”

After his coaching experience at SLO High and going to Bergamo, Burkett decided to attend Bucknell University and pursue his Masters of Science in Education while doing some coaching for the Bucknell University football team. Burkett spent two seasons as a graduate assistant for the team. When speaking on his time in Lewisburg, Burkett says that he learned the right processes and just how much goes into the day of becoming a head coach or leader of a team.

Although he stated he had his own experiences prior to Bucknell, he cites his position as the graduate assistant for the team as really pointing out the work that goes into putting a winning team together. “That being said as any coach or a player, that is the starting point [for the preparation and readiness for a sport compared to the talent or play calling ability].”

Post his Bucknell University assistant days, Burkett was able to acquire himself a spot on the “Big Red” coaching staff at Cornell University starting after he finished his pursuit for his Master’s degree in May of 2007. “It was like a journeyman-like progression, but because I was able to stay in the same place, I had some of the positives of that. But things were always changing,” he said.

In Burkett’s ten years of being on the staff at Cornell, Burkett stated that there were three different head coaches that he had served underneath. “I changed positions (coaching spots) like five times. So I got to be there 10 years and just be constantly uncomfortable.” For Burkett though, the discomfort factor was something that he didn’t mind, as he thought the challenging aspect of the job was preparing him for his future tasks. “That’s where I learned the benefit of discomfort, the benefit to being out of your comfort zone… any lack of expertise I missed out on I made up for it tenfold in other ways by having to change all the time.”

In his transition to UNLV, Burkett cited his experiences from his last job at Cornell showing him what he needed to execute it at the non-Ivy League level. “That would be the number one thing. Recruiting is a 365/7 day pursuit and you are forced to employ that strategy in Ivy League, with the academic requirements, I just learned it’s really the same way everywhere. Coaches are overrated you know? Players are what makes the game go.” During his time at UNLV, Burkett cites his time as being a learning experience and was quoted as saying he “loved” his time working for the program.

Following coach Tony Sanchez’s release from the UNLV program, Burkett stated that he was on the job hunt along with the rest of his Rebels staff. “It was the last week of November… I got a 30-minute interview at Cal Poly for their job but it was still early.” Although Burkett was retained on staff to finish off the 2019 season, the job search still lay in front of him.

On how he got to the College of Sequoias, Burkett stated that it was sort of an accident. While on a trip in Utah in January with his family, Burkett finally got the call that brought him to Visalia. “The athletic director Brent Davis was looking for a coach. Brad Johnson, my college teammate (a Redwood and COS alumni) at Saint Mary’s College reached out to me to see if I would be interested.”

For someone that’s ultimate dream was to become the head coach of their program, getting this news for Burkett showed the opportunity of a lifetime, especially with COS being so close to his hometown of San Luis Obispo. After some deliberations with his family and working out the semantics with the COS administration, Burkett was brought on to be the COS Giants head football coach on April 9, 2020. “It was a two-month process. Obviously, at the tail end of that there was COVID, so that definitely made things interesting. Of course, nothing is an easy decision,” he said.

Among others, one of the deciding factors for Burkett to come to COS was not only the minuscule two-hour drive from his hometown of San Luis Obispo but also the support of Athletic Director Brent Davis and COS President Brent Calvin, who Burkett has cited as being a reason for his taking of the head coaching position.

Through Burkett’s time at College Of Sequoias, the Giant’s success has definitely met the standards of many with his first full year of head coaching results in a 40-39 victory in the Valley Center Bowl against Merced in 2021.

Although Burkett certainly isn’t done with his work here at COS, his life and journey up to this point have led him through many life experiences that some would consider entirely unique to him. With that said, one of his personal favorite moments in his tenure so far was seeing his player’s reactions once they had their bowl game. “It was nice to see the joy on their faces. Although we try and stay enamored with the process here, I still think for the players, it’s nice, and as a coach, it’s nice to see that kind of unbridled joy in their faces at that moment, that was great.”

The COS Football team will continue its path onto another bowl game this year, and with Burkett at the helm, success seems nearly inevitable with his undying dedication to the process and belief in his players and coaching staff. More than anything, his ability to understand the difficulties that come with playing and coaching for as long as he has will better serve to develop COS’ players, and the greater COS community by bringing everyone together to one end:

To enjoy some college football right here in Visalia, California.

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