Oren Burks: Changing The World, One Play At A Time

Oren Burks Is Changing The World

Oren Burks is changing the world with his call to serve. Burks has accomplished more in his 21 years than most people will in their lifetime. He is more than a student-athlete; he is a student-activist-philanthropist-leader-athlete. Burks is a star on and off the field, although he would never call himself a star for his accomplishments — he’s far too humble for that. Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason, however, will gladly tell you: “Oren Burks is going to change the world”. He is the very definition of a “Vanderbilt Man.”

What is a Vanderbilt Man?

When you walk in the football meeting room, there is a graphic on the wall of a football player with the title: “The Vanderbilt Man Committed & Trained.” This concept has three points of focus: the head representing “Intelligence”, the eyes representing “Singularly Focused”, and the heart representing “Character & Integrity.” It is important to realize these are the qualities head coach Derek Mason has instilled in his team since his hiring in January of 2014. In fact, in his first speech as head coach he said, “We all aspire to greatness and that is where we are going to go”.

Burks has taken that aspiration for greatness to a new level. He talked about Mason’s motivation, “He encourages us to give maximum effort in everything we do no matter what it is. Coach Mason really lets guys develop in their own way.” Burks also added “He genuinely cares about his players. I don’t think that can be said for every coach in college athletics.” Using Mason as an example and an inspiration, Burks is leading his own charge off the field.

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Coach Derek Mason is currently in his third season as head coach at Vanderbilt University. He is seen with Oren Burks on the sideline of a Commodores game. Photo Courtesy of Brent Carden (@dbc5361). Used by permission.

Committed

In July, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey gave his State of the SEC address to kick off SEC Media days. In his speech, the commissioner referenced Burks multiple times. The commissioner called Burks “a young man not waiting to lead — he’s leading now.” These statements propelled Burks into the spotlight. He became the appointed voice for the student-athletes on addressing the sensitive social issues. He embraced the role with confidence and poise. Burks’ extensive activities off the field surely made the transition to spokesman effortless.

Character

Burks is a co-founder of the organization REVAMP (Revitalizing and Empowering Vanderbilt’s African-American Male Population). REVAMP formed to unite all the African-American males across campus. “It’s a networking opportunity to get to know each other and support each other. As well as a platform to become stronger together to dispel negative stereotypes on campus as well as in society.” REVAMP TALKS sessions are the last Thursday of every month. Members can get together to vent and learn from each other.

They also empower each other to make the biggest impact they can in their area of the campus. Vanderbilt University awarded REVAMP Most Outstanding Organization of 2015-2016. The biggest event to date was ‘The Other Big League’, where former athletes came back to speak about their experiences as a D-1 athlete as well as their transition into a professional life outside of sports.

Integrity

Obviously his hard work and service have not gone unnoticed. Burks is a nominee for the Wuerffel Trophy, a prestigious community service award. He is a member of the 25th Anniversary Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. This award celebrates student-athletes for acts of good in their communities.

Burks serves as the Vanderbilt representative for the SEC Athletics Committee. He is also President of the Vanderbilt Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). “I have been learning how we (as a committee) can communicate with the administration. We can have an impact in community service…I thought it’s a great way to use my platform to make a difference in the community.”  He participated in “Operational Excellence,” a unique player development program.

At the same time, Burks had an internship with Soles4Souls. He quickly recruited seven of his teammates to complete the Soles4Souls Sole Challenge. Not to mention Burks also works with the Project SAFE center. Project Safe educates students about domestic violence as well as sexual assault. Additionally, Project SAFE offers extensive resources for awareness and prevention as well as educational resources. He is changing the world, one small step at a time.

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Vanderbilt Safety Oren Burks participates in Vanderbilt’s Black Excellence Panel earlier this semester. Back Row: Branden Etienne, Oren Burks, Vic Rounds, Jeremy Howard, Greg Rudd, Karlin Thompson, Cameron Orr, Drake Sanders. Table: DJ Moore, Leshane Greenhill, David Williams, Pastor John Faison. Photo Courtesy of Kate Pearson-Halyburton.

Trained

Notably, Burks is in a new role on the field this season. The “star” position that Mason and Mark Mattioli created for him is a hybrid position of outside linebacker and safety. Burks explained: “It ultimately gets more speed and strength on the field.” Burks enjoys playing defense, “It is awesome to me, I have a good time wherever Mason puts me…I’m out there flying around the field.”  When asked if he felt pressure or extra swagger with the star position his response was humble, as one might expect. “I think it’s a little bit of extra swagger, but at the end of the day it’s a role on the defense. I have to do my job with the people around me to be successful. It is not any extra pressure.”

Last year, Burks had a career high of 58 tackles and led the Commodores with three interceptions.  He also won SEC Player of The Week with two interceptions against Kentucky. So far this season (through Week 5), Burks has 13 solo tackles, eight assists, two sacks, five pass break-ups as well as an interception that he ran back for 59 yards. Burks is definitely “flying around the field”.

Singularly Focused

Ultimately Burks acknowledges his support system.  “I could not get any of this done if it weren’t for my family, friends and my coaches. Everyone is encouraging and willing to help me achieve more.” He shared his words to live by “’Be where your feet are’ so if you’re on the football field you focus 100% on the football field.

’Be where your feet are’ –Oren burks

If you are in the classroom, you focus 100% on the classroom.  If you are with student organizations or community service, you need to focus all your attention there.  With that mindset you eliminate the distractions of everything else going on.”  Burks is living proof that anyone can do anything and everything if they put their whole heart and mind into it.

Intelligence 

Lastly, Burks is working on a double major in Economics and Human & Organizational Development. His success in the classroom has earned a spot on the SEC Academic Honor Roll three times.

Oren Burks is committed and trained. He is intelligent and singularly focused in his service to others. Burks is a man of character and integrity. As a result of his work this summer in the non-profit sector Burks has set his sights on doing more for nonprofit organizations after graduation. If more people aspired to serve half as much as this young man, our country’s turbulent tide would turn into a community of calmness. Oren Burks is more than a football player. He is more than a Vanderbilt man. He is a man changing the world. One play at a time.

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