I clearly remember it. Even to this day I can remember the highlight tape. Kodi Burns.
It was before I followed recruiting. It was back when each year there were new players on the field and I just learned by watching. But Kodi...he was different.
"This quarterback," I was told. "This kid is so fast. He can drop back and take off and outrun his receivers to the endzone." No way. But I looked. And they didn't lie.
"This kid, Kodi Burns. He's the next big thing. He's gonna win championships at Auburn."
I watched the highlights. I couldn't deny it. Kodi Burns was going to be huge.
He saw limited action as a true freshman, taking over for Brandon Cox a few times. But it was the Chick-Fil-A Bowl that got me (and a lot more Auburn fans) excited. The matchup: 8-4 Auburn vs 9-3 Clemson. The rankings: Auburn - #23, Clemson - #15. The result: Auburn 24, Clemson 20.
It was a good game throughout. I watched on ESPN360 at my grandparents, both Auburn graduates. Regulation ended in a 17-17 tie. College overtime: one of my favorite moments in all of sports.
Brandon Cox was the starting quarterback. He had a truly colorful career: both loved and loathed at times. But it was Kodi Burns, the freshman phenom, who scored the winning touchdown on a 7-yard run.
Brandon Cox graduated. The Chick-Fil-A bowl was his last Auburn game. Many of us thought it was Kodi's time. Chris Todd, a gunslinger transfer from Texas Tech was a lock as a backup. Auburn started the season ranked No. 10 on ESPN's preseason rankings. It was going to be a good year for Auburn with Kodi Burns at the helm.
He got his snaps in game one against UL Monroe, but did not impress. He left the game with a cut on his leg, and Chris Todd finished the game. Todd got the start against Southern Mississippi and looked solid.
But it was all downhill from there.
Auburn played terrible and miraculously pulled out a 3-2 win over Mississippi State. 3-2? Are you kidding? Was it baseball? Soccer, maybe? Nay. This was football. A field goal and a safety were the only points accounted for. And this is the story of Auburn's 2008 season.
Auburn was ranked No. 9 and faced No. 6 LSU. This game took place on my first date with my fiancé. And it was going great. I dropped her off at her house, and made it my friend's house to see the end: the improbable touchdown pass from Matt Flynn to Demetrius Byrd.
Auburn would finish that season 5-7. The lowpoint: a 36-0 thrashing at the hands of Alabama, a game that haunts to this day.
Maybe Kodi Burns wasn't all he was cracked up to be. Or maybe it was more.
Tommy Tuberville "resigned" as head coach. And in what was thought to be a terrible hire, Gene Chizik was named the new head coach at Auburn University for 2009.
I would like to take this time to say I supported Gene Chizik in full despite all the heckling I received from my Bama-fan counterparts, and if you live in the state of Alabama you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Gene Chizik hired offensive guru Gus Malzahn to run his offense. They decided Chris Todd was the best choice at quarterback. Kodi Burns was negated to mop-up/wildcat duties and saw time at wide receiver. This wasn't how I thought Kodi Burns would play out. It wasn't how anyone thought it would go down, including Burns.
Then, Burns showed me what a teammate is supposed to do.
He came out and said that Chris Todd was the man. That was the decision. He didn't complain. He didn't transfer. He stood behind his coaches and behind Todd. Chizik took one year and swapped the wins for losses, taking a 5-7 team and going 7-5, 8-5 after a thrilling victory over Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.
That was Todd's senior year. What then would happen in 2010? Would Kodi switch back to quarterback and get another shot?
We all know the answer. Gus Malzahn convinced Coach Chizik to pursue Cameron Newton. The recruitment was successful. I welcome you to comment. I hope you will. Please, however, refrain from any comments related to Newton-hate and the pay-for-play scandal and his eligibility. Thank you.
We all know that Newton was brought in to play. He wasn't brought in to ride the bench. Still, there was an open quarterback battle, which was the right thing to do. It featured a 4-man race. The contenders were: Newton, Barrett Trotter, Neil Caudle and Clint Moseley.
As you will notice, Burns was not an option.
Newton won the race, with Trotter as his backup. A strong case for "Auburn Man" can also be made for Caudle. And if you want to go further, look up Bart Eddins.
Burns was once again wide receiver and wildcat QB.
If you look at the stat sheet, Burns has 10 catches for 142 yards. He has carried the ball 6 times for 10 yards and a touchdown. Passing he is 2-for-5 for 42 yards and one touchdown (the Heisman-padder score to Cameron Newton against Ole Miss).
Kodi Burns, you would say, is not a factor on offense.
Auburn has a solid group of receivers. Darvin Adams broke out as a sophomore and is having a productive junior campaign. Terrell Zachery, a senior, is a solid #2 guy. Then at slot we have split time between Burns and Emory Blake, who is having a breakout season.
Burns is lost in this season, right?
As a former offensive lineman, I find myself watching the blocks, saying, "Mike, if you had only been a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier, that could have been you." Off-subject, I know. But in watching these blocks, I notice that the four seniors Ziemba, Berry, Pugh, and Isom. They are simply impressive. Brandon Mosley, who stepped in for an injured A.J. Greene, is also having a solid season considering he was a tight end before coming to Auburn as a junior college transfer.
But then I see something else.
I see Kodi Burns.
Burns doesn't get the ball 10 times a game. He doesn't even get it five. Or four. Or three. But if it weren't for Burns, Auburn's offense might not be so successful.
He puts his team first. He makes those nasty blocks. I'll tell you something. Blocking isn't easy. And blocking downfield while your runner has the ball in his hands, when it's you versus your man at full speed, that's a tough thing as well. And Burns is responsible for those blocks. On Onterio McCalebb's 70-yard game-winner against LSU, you see Terrell Zachery seal his man inside, and Burns shove his man right back into him. And through that seam, McCalebb sprints to paydirt. It's those type of plays that define a player.
Against Kentucky, Newton is headed off-balance in the air out of bounds. He throws one up, and Burns comes down with it. It's those type of plays that define a player's abilities.
Once again, against LSU, on Newton's highlight reel touchdown scamper (you know the one I'm talking about. The one where he hit the accelerator and made Patrick Peterson look slow), Burns sealed a linebacker outside while Newton cut back to the middle. Key point: selling yourself for the glory of others. It's those kinds of plays that define a player's heart.
Kodi Burns, you are not a premier receiver. You are not the quarterback I hoped you would be. You are not a 5-star athlete, production-wise.
But you are a 5-star person.
You've been lost in the minds of many. Newton. Nick Fairley. Michael Dyer. Lee Ziemba. Darvin Adams. These are the names everyone knows. Not many outside the Auburn faithful know who you are and what you do. But you sell yourself and make these guys look good. You are, above all else, the personification of team.
And for this, I praise you.
You may not be an All-American. You're not the stud quarterback leading our team into a national championship. But you have just as much to do with it. You are what we like to call an Auburn Man.
And this is my homage to you.