Burns grows with KSU
By ARNE GREEN
Special to The Hays Daily News
MANHATTAN - For every step forward in Morgan Burns' Kansas State football career, he's had to take several steps back.
As a standout running back and state champion sprinter at TrinityAcademy in Wichita, Burns went full speed ahead and few, if any, could keep up. But when he switched to defensive back at K-State, it abruptly threw his thought process into reverse.
"I spent a big part of my life running forward, and now backpedaling is a big change," said Burns, a junior, who, after two years of learning the ropes, is finally ready to claim a starting job at cornerback. "I think backpedaling and just keeping my eyes in the right position and seeing the field and knowing the defense is huge for me."
In high school, where he rushed for 2,700 yards his last two seasons on offense, Burns also was a safety on defense. But it scarcely prepared him for the intricacies of playing cornerback at the Division I level.
"You don't really realize how technical corner is," Burns said. "I played safety, but at my high school there really wasn't much technique to it.
"I just kind of did whatever and roamed the field."
While serving his apprenticeship at corner, Burns excelled on special teams for the Wildcats and he remains a candidate to join All-American Tyler Lockett on kickoff returns. The next step is becoming a full-time defensive player.
"Coming here to K-State and starting from scratch, I really had to learn a lot," Burns said. "It's cool because I was under a lot of great corners and (safeties) Ty Zimmerman and Dante Barnett, who are great leaders in the defensive secondary."
Zimmerman, a four-year standout, is gone, leaving just Barnett and nickelback Randall Evans as returning starters in the secondary. That not only left Burns battling for a starting job, but also taking a leadership role with a crew of inexperienced corners.
"It's been interesting because I haven't had a lot of playing time," Burns said. "I've always been a backup and played a lot of special teams.
"Now I have to step up and provide leadership in that area where I haven't really had a lot of time on the field. It's a great opportunity, I'm excited for it and I really have to rise to the occasion."
Defensive coordinator Tom Hayes, who also works with the defensive backs, expressed confidence in Burns.
"He's been in our program a long time, has done well on special team and is a fast guy," Hayes said. "But he needed time to mature and I think he's doing a nice job.
"He's a team leader for sure and he's an unbelievable worker in the offseason."
Burns clearly is much more polished now as well.
"Two years ago we always said, 'Morgan Burns, you've got the speed,' but he didn't have that cornerback mentality because he was a running back in high school," said Evans, a three-year starter at nickelback. "Now he knows what a receiver does and he's not just using speed.
"He's using his smarts now. His IQ has gone up a lot at the cornerback."
Burns calls it a natural progression.
"I've had some time on the field and coach Hayes is a great coach," he said. "He has a lot of experience and he's coached me well.
"I feel comfortable with what I'm doing now. I don't have to think and hesitate as much."