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Klein Forest's TJ Burkhalter Jr.
TRENTON “TJ” BURKHALTER, JR. IS AS VERSATILE AS THEY COME.
The junior DE for Klein Forest has established himself as one of the program’s top competitors on the gridiron, having earned second-team, all- district honors in 2022.
Given all the college camps he’s attended, Burkhalter may have the chance to play at the next level, holding offers from Mississippi Valley State and Midwestern State.
While he hopes to hear from more colleges in the coming months, Burkhalter’s primary focus still remains at home.
“For me, I’m really more focused on the team right now,” he said. “I want to help us make it to the playoffs. With recruiting, if I do well during the season and get some offers, I’d be excited. But the team is the top priority right now.”
It’s no secret that the Klein Forest football program will look slightly different now that coach Darrick Vaughn hastaken the reins. However, Burkhalter feels that this will give him and his teammates the opportunity to thrive in a new system.
“We’re definitely a lot more focused,” said Burkhalter. “We lost a lot of players, which kind of hurts, but I definitely think that our team is coming together. Coach Vaughn is really big on discipline and attention to detail, and he’s trying to make sure we get the little things right. I think that will benefit us in the long run.”
When football ends, Burkhalter sheds the pads and prepares to enter the wrestling ring. In fact, he’s so adept in the ring that he was the individual district champion at 215-pounds a year ago.
No wonder he’s become a force off the edge.
“I think going back and forth with football and wrestling really helps with my stamina and physicality on the defensive line,” he said. “People don’t always realize the kind of conditioning you need for wrestling – you get worn out a lot quicker. So being trained that way year-round is incredibly valuable for me.”
What’s something that many people might not know about the Klein Forest junior ?
“I’m in FFA as well. I’m really big on livestock,” Burkhalter said. “I’ve shown steers for the past two years, and I’ve been working with FFA since the sixth grade. I actually showed at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and ended up winning $6,000.
“I definitely see that in my future, which is why I intend to major in something agriculture-wise once I go to college. I grew up around horses since some of my family would participate in rodeos, so it just feels right.”
Suffice it to say, whatever path Burkhalter chooses to take, the future is bright for this Golden Eagle.
KF coach Darrick Vaughn
KLEIN FOREST MAY LOOK SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT ON THE GRIDIRON THIS FALL, WITH A CULTURE CHANGE COURTESY OF NEWCOMER DARRICK VAUGHN.
In addition to taking over as the head football coach, Vaughn will be the high school’s athletic director. With 19 years of experience in education, the Golden Eagles’ newest head man has a clear understanding of what he hopes to accomplish.
“My coaches were a big influence on my life growing up, so I just want to give back,” said Vaughn. “I believe in being a servant leader. I’m here to serve these young men and women, to help them become great members of society."
“This is my second stop in Klein ISD, and I believe in our shared vision – promise to purpose,” Vaughn said. “I understand our role is to help these kids excel in the classroom and in athletics.”
Vaughn’s experience in football, in particular, speaks for itself.
He’s already won a state championship with Dekaney (5A-DII) in 2011, not to mention he played defensive back in the NFL (Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans) between 2000 and 2003, which feeds into his coaching tactics.
“I’m more of a defensive-style coach,” he said. “Last year, they had a lot of success on the defensive side of the ball. So, having Coach (Kyle) Kelley and his staff back will be huge. It gives me the opportunity to assist with the offense and give them a viewpoint from a defensive perspective.”
Not long after being introduced to the Klein Forest roster, Vaughn has already begun to recognize the potential he sees in the team.
“When I first came here, on the first day of Speed and Conditioning Camp and SSI (Sport- Specific Instruction), I was thoroughly impressed,” he said. “There’s a lot of talent here. We, as coaches, have to put it all together. Last year we finished 5-5, so our sole goal is to turn that into a playoff team.”
Despite all the talent at his disposal, particularly that of his seniors, Vaughn emphasized that he’ll employ the skill of everyone on the roster to build upon last season’s successes.
“It’s going to take the efforts of everybody to succeed,” said Vaughn. “We believe in the core values – having a common purpose, shared honor and mutual dependency. So, everyone is going to be called upon to get the job done.”
It’s been over a decade since the Golden Eagles reached the postseason. Could this be the year they flip the script?