Tri-State athletes connected for life from Haiti to the gridiron

Tri-State athletes connected for life from Haiti to the gridiron
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 12:46 AM CDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2022 at 12:53 AM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Jonas and Nicot Burnett are standout athletes on the high school gridiron.

Jonas is a senior at Reitz High School. Through the first four weeks of the season as a running back for the Panthers, he’s had 62 carries for 460 yards and seven touchdowns.

Meanwhile, his cousin Nicot Burnett has been the starting quarterback for Mount Vernon High School since his freshman year. In his junior year, Nicot has recorded six passing touchdowns for 455 yards, as well as four rushing touchdowns for 265 yards.

“Nicot bleeds Maroon and Grey,” Todd Burnett, Jonas’ father said. “He is a Wildcat through and through, and all Jonas ever talked about from the moment he played football the very first year was his senior year in the Bowl as a Reitz Panther.”

Nicot and Jonas are not related by blood, but instead by adoption.

“It’s been quite a journey,” Nicot said.

Mount Vernon junior quarterback Nicot Burnett
Mount Vernon junior quarterback Nicot Burnett

The cousins, along with each of their sisters, were born in Haiti and lived in the same orphanage. The Burnett family found the children only years before the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

“At that time we knew the orphanage had not fallen, but that they had to leave it and that [the earthquake] was in their area,” Cathy Burnett, Nicot’s mother said. “They did not have any word yet of whether anyone had survived.”

The Burnett family brought Jonas home to the Tri-State in 2009. When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Nicot was still there along with his sister Maty and Jonas’ adoptive-sister Ellie.

”When we got word they were okay, wheels set in motion,” Todd said. “President [Barack] Obama granted humanitarian parole to any families that were in the process of adopting children – that they could bring them to the United States.”

Over the years, 19 children from that same orphanage were adopted by 11 different families across the Tri-State area.

”God made it very apparent that Jonas was our son,” Kristina Burnett, Jonas’ mother said. “I think it helps that they have cousins that are from the same place they are, which is important. Their heritage is Haiti.”

Reitz senior running back Jonas Burnett
Reitz senior running back Jonas Burnett

The connection between Jonas and Nicot extends beyond where they were born. They both found a passion for sports and they are both standout athletes in the Tri-State.

“Of course, the fact that we got adopted from a third-world country, that’s a big thing that puts us together, but I think sports gives us similarity,” Nicot said. “I think Jonas thinks the same way, we’re trying to prove to everyone that we belong.”

From the moment they were adopted, the boys became Burnetts in every sense. Their biggest fan is their Burnett grandfather.

“My dad passed away in January,” Todd said. “I remember the very first game against Harrison, my mom sent Jonas a text message saying, ‘Hey, good luck,’ and after the game was over Jonas saw the text message and said, ‘No worries, every game this season’s for grandpa.’ Every time he runs on the field and runs through the tunnel, the first thing he does – he taps his chest and points to heaven and he gives it his all.”

Nicot also said he plays for his grandpa.

“A lot of people who get adopted, they might go to the wrong family, but me, I got put in the right family I feel like,” Jonas said. “They don’t really know sports, they’re still learning. For them to be able to support me, it just helps me a lot.”