Jim Panagos, who has tutored numerous defensive linemen — college and pro — during his many years as an assistant football coach, currently is working with an all-time favorite in Sam Burt of Kansas.
“The best leader I ever coached in 31 years is Sam Burt. Sam is by far the best leader I ever had. He is doing a phenomenal job leading,” the 51-year-old Panagos said, catching the media’s full attention by offering such a superlative after a recent KU practice.
Panagos — he was hired by second-year KU football coach Lance Leipold to coach the defensive tackles on Feb. 1 — has worked with a plethora of defensive stalwarts as a member of the Minnesota Vikings NFL coaching staff four seasons as well as college staffs at Maryland, Central Florida, Rutgers, Pitt, Temple, Minnesota and now Kansas.
Panagos was prepared to list the numerous reasons he’s so high on Burt.
“The way he conducts himself, the way he handles himself, the way he leads, the way he communicates, how much he cares about the players, how much he cares about me, how much he cares about this program is pretty special,” Panagos said.
Burt makes great first impression
Panagos indicated it didn’t take him long after arriving at KU to realize sixth-year super senior Burt was somebody he’d thoroughly enjoy coaching.
“Right away. I knew right away,” Panagos said of recognizing leadership qualities in Burt, a 6-foot-4, 295 pound native of Abilene, Kansas.
Burt, a defensive lineman, hurt his right arm in the season opener against South Dakota last season, returned for one additional game (against Kansas State in week nine), ultimately deciding to take a redshirt and return for year two of the Leipold era at KU.
“You can tell how important this program is for him. He says, ‘I don’t care if I play a play. I don’t care if I play 100 plays. I want to win. I want to leave it (program) better than I found it,’’’ Panagos stated.
Panagos continued his praise of Burt, who during his last healthy season (2020) started seven of nine games, totaling 15 tackles (11 solo, four assisted) for 0-9 KU. The former walk-on in the recruiting Class of 2017 also had 15 tackles as part of KU’s D-line rotation as a junior.
“A lot of people think leadership is yelling. Leadership is not yelling. Leadership is holding people accountable and talking to people. He does a great job with that,” Panagos said.
“He is so strong. He’s so powerful. Everybody thinks this Big 12 Conference is (about) passing the ball. It’s about inside zone, playing double teams. Sam Burt is strong. Sam Burt does not get displaced. Sam Burt is in his gap.”
Burt nominated for awards
Panagos believes Burt can have a stellar final season on the field at KU. Burt already has been a big hit off the field.
The three-time academic all-Big 12 first-team selection and member of the Big 12 commissioner’s honor roll in July was one of 114 college football players nominated for the Allstate/American Football Coaches Association ‘Good Works’ team. The team “recognizes student-athletes around the country for exemplary community service, academic dedication, and impact on and off the field.”
Also in July he was one of 115 players named to the Wuerffel Trophy watch list. According to the award’s website, the award annually is “presented to the FBS player who best combines exemplary community service with leadership achievement on and off the field.”
This summer, Burt has participated in KU football’s various community service projects. He’s read books to elementary school students, assisted in community clean-up efforts and volunteered to assist the Just Food community food bank.
“As a team we had a goal to double our community service hours from last summer to this summer. We were like 95%,” Burt said after a recent practice. “We went from 250 community service hours last summer (2021) to 400 plus this year. It’s something they (KU coaches) value here. It’s something I personally value.
“Any time you are trying to change a program, servitude and humility is the best way to do that,” Burt added. “That’s what we’re trying to build. Getting guys to serve other people is the best kind of love you can show to someone, so giving that to our community and showing that we love them, will in turn allow us to have a better relationship.”
Burt, who is married to Reese Burt, said his desire to make a difference through volunteer work has grown the longer he and his wife have been in Lawrence.
“This will be my sixth season. I love this town. Being here has done a lot for me. Being able to give back is something I really value,” Burt said. “Being up for that (Wuerffel) Award is a great honor. There are a lot of other guys who do great things. Being a part of that award … to be nominated is pretty special to me.”
Burt follows lead of others
After a high school career that included being named to the National Honor Society and a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Burt said he was encouraged to volunteer his time to different causes by former KU player Reese Randall.
“He helped me plug into some community service opportunities,” Burt said, also citing former staff member Ed Jones and current staff member Darrell Stuckey for volunteer guidance.
“I’m trying to do my part each and every year to give back as much as I can.”
Burt acknowledges his favorite projects involve working with young students.
“Getting kids involved in football and sports at a young age is really cool to see,” Burt said. “Getting them training and opportunities especially as Kansas kids is super important to me. Trying to put it back in our youth … to give them a leg up to be able to compete is important to me.”
As far as what’s happening on the field, Burt says he’s anxious to help build a winner under the direction of Leipold.
“Last year as we were going through games (and Burt had a cast on his hand), everybody approached me and said, ‘Hey you still have a redshirt,’’’ Burt said. “I was like, ‘Oh.’ With coach Leipold here, seeing how we were changing things especially the last (three) games of the season (which included a win over Texas on the road and narrow losses to TCU and West Virginia), seeing that ending on a positive note, it was a no-brainer. This is what God has allowed me to do, giving me the door to go into. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity (to continue college career).
“As a player I’ve been here for a while, and I can honestly tell you, this is the most excited I’ve ever been going into fall camp. From camaraderie, to hope, to energy, to anything. this is the best camp by far, this is the best team by far going in in terms of cohesiveness and all that. I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Leipold appreciates Burt
Leipold speaks highly of Burt, a player the coach said has a “passion” to help turn things around. He applauds Burt’s “maturity, confidence, leadership and work ethic.”
These are things noticed by his teammates.
“Sam is the man,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Mike Novitsky said. “He’s great. He’s great on the team as a leader. He’s been around here for a while. So he has a lot of experience to share with the younger guys and even to share to me, because I just got here last summer (as transfer from Buffalo). He’s the general. He’s the man.”
Burt’s Jayhawks will open the season Sept. 2 versus Tennessee Tech. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Booth Memorial Stadium.