Every town has its icons — athletic and otherwise — whose brilliance and impact simply can’t and won’t be forgotten.
In Fort Walton Beach, it doesn’t get much bigger than Jackie Burkett, the former Choctawhatchee High School football great who died Friday night following a short battle with leukemia. Burkett passed at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center at the age of 80.
“This is the passing of a legend, no doubt about it,” said longtime friend and Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce board chairman Bill Roberts. “Jackie was a hero to a lot of folks for a lot of reasons, and it certainly was for more than athletics.
“Simply put, he was just a good man.”
A 1955 graduate of Choctaw, Burkett (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) went on to greatness at Auburn University, where he starred at center and linebacker from 1957-59. At a time when freshmen were ineligible to play, he was a three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection and named an All-American in 1958. He was captain of the Tigers all three seasons, including the 1957 Associated Press national championship team that finished 10-0.
Of interest is that national title under legendary head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan was the first in the history of the AP championship awarded to a team on probation and not allowed to participate in a bowl game. The only other time that occurred was with Oklahoma in 1974.