NFL draft 2022: Meet Treylon Burks, wild boar hunter and first-round prospect

Treylon Burks makes catch for 14-yard TD (0:37)

Treylon Burks makes catch for 14-yard TD (0:37)

TREYLON BURKS WAS interested in LSU and Clemson, but his heart and his family were never going to let him venture far from home in the tiny town of Warren, Arkansas. He committed to Arkansas as a junior in high school and took only one of his five allotted official visits -- to Arkansas -- leaving early so he could sleep in his own bed.

But what wasn't known until recently was just how close to home he considered staying. His high school coach, Bo Hembree, hinted at it last month when he said, "It wouldn't have shocked me if he went to a Division II school." The mystery school had a name -- Ouachita Baptist -- but Hembree didn't want to speak out of turn. "I'm gonna let him talk about that."

As it turns out, Burks is an open book.

"Oh yes, sir," he responded at the mention of OBU. "I've always liked it there because it was right by home. All my friends went there. There were times I was thinking about it."

He later added, "I wouldn't say it was too serious, but it was always a thought I could go there."

Burks understands how people would have reacted to a top four that included three recognizable Power 5 programs and Ouachita Baptist. It's inconceivable that a top-100 player would give a school from the Great American Conference the time of day. Yet, as Burks put it, "I don't care what people think."

That was the first glimpse into a mindset unusual for a prospect on the verge of being selected in the first round of this month's NFL draft. Since 2020, Burks ranks third nationally in yards after catch (996). He has nine receptions of at least 48 yards during that time, tied for the most in the Power 5. Still, Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said he was struck by how mild-mannered and confident he is.

"Quiet," Pittman said of Burks, "but can catch anything close to him."

Although he plays a position synonymous with larger-than-life personalities, Burks is devoid of flash. He grew up outdoors, hunting, fishing and playing sports year-round. When it rained, he'd sit on the front porch with his great-grandfather waiting for the storm to pass. It was there that Grandpa Joe, who fought in the Vietnam War and worked for the Warren School District for 30 years, instilled in him the belief that "you're no bigger than any other man."

Hembree has coached his fair share of FBS prospects over 24 years at Warren High, including pros like Jarius Wright and Chris Gragg, and Burks stands out, mostly for his approach.

He was only the second freshman to ever start for Hembree, and he did it all. Once, as a junior, he scored five touchdowns four ways in a game: twice rushing as a Wildcat quarterback, one punt return, one interception return and one bubble screen he caught as a receiver and ran 61 yards to the house.

But he wasn't a stats guy, Hembree said. If they were up by two or three scores, Burks would take it upon himself to put his backup in the game. He'd burn a defensive back in practice and instead of taunting, he would circle back and walk the DB through what he'd done wrong.

"He's not a self-promoter, he's a team-promoter," Hembree said. "That's what's going to make him a great pro."

So, of Ouachita Baptist and the path not taken, Burks sees it simply.

"You know," he said, "if I have the talent to make it to the NFL, it doesn't matter where I go. They'll come find me. That's just a mentality that I've always had."

LISTEN TO ENOUGH Treylon Burks stories and it's hard to avoid similarities to another prep star who grew up in the South as a multisport athlete. Burks was Warren's version of Bo Jackson -- at least in terms of his size and power, explained his high school baseball coach, Michael Milum.

Baseball was his first love, starting at age 6, before he ever picked up a football or a basketball. He could fly around the basepaths and had a cannon for a right arm. By the time he got to Warren High, he could take the mound in a pinch and throw in the upper 80s. Once, he hit a foul ball so hard he bent his metal bat.

He had range as a center fielder, too, covering foul pole to foul pole. The problem? He had no sense of the warning track.

Milum remembers one game when Burks was shaded to left-center and a ball was hit deep to right-center.

"He just starts tracking it and catches it on the run and about a half a step after he catches it, the fence catches him," Milum said.

Thankfully, the fence was chainlink and Burks didn't hit a pole set in concrete. But when he fell, the fence fell with him.

Milum ran out to check on Burks, who spit out a wad of something bright red as the fence sagged back into place. He'd recently gotten braces and his mouth was cut to shreds. Grinning through bloody teeth, Burks showed Milum the ball in his glove and said, "I'm good."

"He was very tough," Milum said.

Milum had a few coaches tell him they thought Burks had MLB potential. He often wondered what might have been if Burks committed solely to baseball.

"But you can also say that about him in any sport," Milum said. "You could have said that when you watched him play basketball. He just had God-given ability."

His basketball coach, Corey Muldrew, called Burks a "man amongst boys." He was a solid 200 pounds as a freshman, yet he was among the fastest players on the team.

"And he was definitely the most explosive guy on the team," Muldrew said. "I mean, he was just a phenomenal athlete."

Despite being slightly undersized at 6-foot-2, Burks was a stretch power forward who could shoot the 3 and handle the ball in transition. But he was most effective in the paint. It was normal to see him block a shot, run the court and dunk.

"If we shoot and make it, that was good," Muldrew said. "But if we shoot and miss, there was a good chance Treylon would get the rebound and put it back in.

"I bet he averaged 15-16 rebounds a game. I mean, he was dominant."

In fact, that was one of the things that first piqued Arkansas' interest.

Barry Lunney, who coached the Razorbacks tight ends at the time, had come to Warren during the spring evaluation period to see if Hembree had any up-and-coming prospects. Hembree got up from his desk and told Lunney to follow him to the gym. There was an eighth-grader he needed to see.

Lunney estimated that Burks had 30 rebounds that night. To have that size, power and athleticism at that age was impressive. Frankly, Lunney said, "He was easy to pick out."

Fast-forward a few months and Lunney was able to get his hands on tape from Burks' freshman season on the Warren football team. It was the same size, power and athleticism that he saw on the basketball court, except now he got to see Burks' top-end speed at receiver and his toughness as a safety unafraid to step into the box and make a tackle.

"He was the total package," Lunney said.

The only thing holding him back from the recruitment process was an unofficial policy then-head coach Bret Bielema had about offering in-state players too young. The rationale was if you take a flier on someone out of state and pull back later there would be little consequence. But flip-flop in your own backyard and you run the risk of losing the support of local high school coaches.

Lunney remembers bringing up Burks anyway and Bielema responding unenthusiastically, "Come on, Barry."

"Coach," Lunney said, "I'm just telling you, if you didn't know he's a freshman ..."

Lunney played Burks' tape and made his pitch: Be the first Power 5 to offer a scholarship and enjoy the upper-hand when other schools play catch-up.

Bielema agreed and eventually, the secret got out and every SEC program heard about the dynamic receiver in Warren. But Lunney was a constant presence.

"It was like Groundhog Day," he said. "Every week, I was there."

Like a lot of players he recruits, Lunney traded direct messages on social media with Burks regularly. But instead of feeding his ego with the typical promises of playing time, Lunney and Burks swapped photos of fish they'd caught.

Lunney remembered one of the first things Hembree told him: This kid is different.

Burks didn't play video games or sit glued to the TV. When he drove away from practice, chances are there were a couple of fishing poles sticking out of the back of his truck.

"He's tough as a bull," Hembree told Lunney, "and he'd rather be in the woods than anywhere else."

HEMBREE KNEW THERE was something special about Burks long before he got to high school and on the radar of the nation's top colleges.

Warren High has a reputation for producing an unusually high number of FBS prospects for a place so small (population 5,500). Lunney joked, "There must be something in the water there." But the 2008 class, in particular, was loaded with four players who were all heading to Arkansas, including future NFL receiver Greg Childs.

During pregame warmups around that time, Hembree was distracted by the water boy. The Burks kid was awfully big for a third grader, he thought.

Hembree watched as Burks shagged balls for the kickers and punters. Most kids that age struggled to catch a soft spiral, but Burks was nabbing booming, end-over-end kicks. And he wasn't using his chest to cradle the ball, either. He was catching them with nothing but his hands.

Hembree remembers an opposing coach walking over, pointing to Burks and asking, "Who is that kid?"

Every Friday night, Burks was there. He knew who Childs and the other stars on the team were, but even at that age he wasn't in awe of them. "I was just doing a job," he said. "In Warren, everybody's humble."

But in Warren, everyone pays attention, and it was no secret that Burks was growing into a special athlete. In Pee Wee football, he was so big and fast they came up with rules to limit his impact: He couldn't play quarterback or running back. If they wanted to get him the ball on offense, they had to throw it to him beyond the line of scrimmage.

Thankfully, in high school, Hembree said, there were no such rules. Burks would play Wildcat quarterback, receiver, rush end and safety. He also was the punter.

Burks came up with a rule for Hembree, rather than the other way around: I don't come off the field on defense, period.

The only time coaches convinced him to stay on the sideline was when he broke his hand and had a cast up to his elbow. Still, he dressed out just in case. And when one of the starting receivers was injured, Hembree relented and let Burks on the field as a decoy. He warned him, "We're not going to throw you the football."

Who was he kidding?

"He ended up having 12 catches for like 282 yards and three touchdowns on one hand," Hembree said.

Milum, who was an assistant on the football team, laughed as he recalled that game.

"Anything thrown at him, you don't give up on," he said.

Well, that and hands that grew to 10.25 inches and catch everything in their general vicinity. He had to squeeze into size 4XL receiver gloves, going through a new pair every other week in high school. In baseball, he used a softball mitt because it was the only thing big enough that fit.

Burks, who never got serious about basketball, planned to play both football and baseball when he got to Arkansas, but he tore his ACL as a senior and decided to focus solely on football. He rehabbed that winter and spring, and was ready by preseason camp. After getting his feet wet as a freshman, he emerged as one of the top receivers in college football last season.

His size and versatility conjured memories of DK Metcalf and Deebo Samuel -- stars in the SEC who are now among the best receivers in the NFL. Over the past two years, Burks ranks in the top 10 nationally in receiving yards (1,924) and receiving touchdowns (20). He was targeted 158 times and dropped only seven passes.

He ran a 4.50 second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but his game speed is even more impressive. Just ask Alabama's secondary. Everyone knew Burks was Arkansas' go-to target last season, and he still managed to catch eight passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns in a closer-than-expected 42-35 loss in Tuscaloosa.

Pittman said Burks is one of those players who always catches up to his target and, in turn, never allows himself to get caught.

"You got special people that seem to just be faster than everybody else at that given time," he said.

PITTMAN STRUGGLED TO come up with the proper way to describe Burks: smart, articulate, someone who cares about his teammates. But the word he kept coming back to was "country."

"He hunts wild boar with his dogs and the whole nine yards," Pittman said.

Yes, you read that correctly. Burks doesn't just fish. He doesn't just hunt deer with a crossbow. He goes out into the woods in search of wild boar with nothing but his dogs and a knife.

Essentially what happens is this: The dogs find the hog and corner it. Then another dog is sent in to hold the wild animal in place. If it's too small, they'll turn the hog loose. But if it's big enough to feed them and others, it's time to go in.

Emphatically, Burks explained, "We do not use guns."

"Using a gun takes the fun out of it," he added. "Having a knife, it's more of a thrill that you're getting up on a wild boar that could kill you. Honestly it's just a thrill being out there with your friends and family and having a good time."

Burks knows how all of this sounds. The average wild boar is around 200 pounds. They're powerful and their tusks are there for a reason.

"Some people probably consider me crazy," Burks said, "but that's just how I am."

He's been hunting hogs since he was 9. He knows a few people who have been injured or had close calls, but he has managed to come out unscathed.

"I would say I'm not scared of wild game like some people are," he said. "Like bears, I'm not scared of them. I have respect for them. Going out there, I'm in their habitat."

During the run-up to the NFL draft, Burks has had quite a few teams ask about his unusual hobby. He has assured them he doesn't risk injury by saving hunting trips for the offseason.

He recently had a meeting with New York Giants -- "Literally everyone was there," he said -- and they peppered him with questions about hunting wild boar. As he took the coaches and scouts through the process, he could see their eyes light up.

"They were thrilled that someone does that," Burks said. "They'd never heard of it. It was amazing to them."

Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest mock draft projects Burks to be taken with the 28th pick by the Green Bay Packers. But he doesn't plan on attending the event in Las Vegas.

Instead, he'll be in Hot Springs, Arkansas, surrounded by family and friends.

When his professional career is over, that's also where he says he'll return -- home to Warren. He'd love to follow in Hembree's footsteps and coach high school football, and use whatever money he makes in the NFL to build a ranch.

Maybe it will be on a lake and he can fish right in his own backyard.

He gets giddy just thinking about it.

There will be animals everywhere, he said.

"Cows, horses, chickens, hogs, donkeys," he added. "Literally everything."