ROCKTON — Daytona Chandler and Shaylar Burnell, close friends off the field, solidified their gridiron futures together Wednesday at Hononegah High School.
The two Indian seniors signed National Letters of Intent to continue their football careers, with Chandler heading to Rochester (Minn.) Community and Technical College (RCTC) and Burnell going to Southwestern Minnesota State.
Chandler, a two-year starter at quarterback for Hononegah, is coming off a difficult senior season. After starting the season late, Chandler played just three games before suffering a season-ending injury against Auburn Oct. 2. Despite the troubles, Chandler said his senior season taught him a lot.
“I learned perseverance first of all,” Chandler said. “I learned how to work through adversity. There’s always going to be another day. There’s always someone that is in a worse situation than you. It taught me to look for a positive in every situation. The Lord has a plan for me, and I’m extremely excited to go up there and take advantage of this opportunity.”
One major change Chandler is looking forward to is the style of offense he will be directing. RCTC, the National Junior College Athletic Association runners-up in 2015, runs a spread offense, a polar opposite of Hononegah’s ground and pound attack that might have the quarterback make just a few throws per game.
“They throw the ball all over the yard,” Chandler said. “That’s not something I’ve been exposed to here at Hononegah. I’m going to have about five 6-foot-5 receivers that will go up and be able to high-point a ball and bring it down. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Hononegah co-head coach Chad Smith said Chandler, who is hoping to receive a Division I scholarship after his time at RCTC is complete, has a bright future.
“Chandler has all the physical tools a college is looking for,” Smith said. “He’s 6-foot-5, he’s a good athlete, and he’s got a very strong arm. I thought before he got hurt he was throwing the ball as accurately as I’ve seen him. He’s got a chance to do some really great things.”
Burnell said his visit to Southwestern Minnesota State in Marshall, Minn., reminded him of home.
“It’s just like here,” Burnell said. “It’s a tight-knit community that’s really behind their football team. Everyone knows everyone’s name. The coaching staff is awesome. They really made me feel at home. It’s going to be a big challenge, but I can’t wait to get back on that field again.”
Burnell is a terrific cornerback who doubles as a significant threat on special teams. In back-to-back seasons against Auburn in the playoffs, he notched touchdowns on returns, a skill Smith believes Burnell will be able to utilize at the next level.
“I really believe that Shaylar’s best football is still ahead of him,” Smith said. “He’s so good on special teams and is such a threat back there. Defensively, once he puts on some size and bulk he’s going to do very well.”
Burnell’s mother Dawn said Shaylar’s success has come as no surprise to her.
“When he was about six or seven years old, he told me he wanted to try football,” Dawn said. “So we signed him up for the flag football league in Rockford. From the first time he put those flags around his waist, he said this was something he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He was fast and quick and had success right away.”
SMSU is a Division II program that went 8-3 in 2015. Burnell is hoping to compete for a spot right away.
“The coaches told me there’s an opportunity to do that,” Burnell said. “They are going to put the best players on the field, regardless of how old or young they are. So if it’s defense or special teams, I definitely want to get out there as soon as I can.”