Running for gold: Burns’ collegiate career coming to fruition in junior season

K-State defensive back Morgan Burns defends a pass to Oklahoma State wide receiver Jhajuan Seales on Saturday, November 1, 2014 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Emily DeShazer | The Collegian)

Against Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State, K-State fans received a firsthand glimpse of the speed of junior returner and defensive back Morgan Burns. For Tyler Ryan, current head coach at Wellington High School and Burns’ coach at Wichita Trinity, the 86-yard touchdown return was nothing out of the ordinary.

The three-time All-League pick both on defense and offense ran for an astounding 2,700 yards and 36 touchdowns in just two seasons for the Knights.

The speed didn’t end on Friday night high school football games, either.

In Burns’ senior season at Wichita Trinity, he swept the Class 4A sprints at the Kansas High School State Track and Field meet with gold medals in the 100 meters (10.66 seconds), 200 meters (21.58) and 400 meters (48.66).

Not only did he stake his claim in his respective group, but Burn’s results ranked highly in all ranks through the state of Kansas.

“In the 100 meters, there was one kid that beat him in all classes,” Ryan said. “In the 200 and the 400, it was the fastest time in all classes. That was a pretty neat thing to see from him. To be able to do that all in one day at the state track meet is one of the biggest athletic moments I got to watch him accomplish.”

The speed translated through game tape to K-State head coach Bill Snyder in the recruiting process, but his revamped attention to detail and technique has bolstered his standing in the K-State secondary.

“He’s a bright young fellow and he picks things up well,” Snyder said. “He understands what his deficiencies have been and he pushes toward overcoming those.”

Burns took the route of a grayshirt at K-State and has completed two full seasons before becoming an every-down player in coordinator Tom Hayes’ defense.

“I know he had some trials there and he had to earn his stripes,” Ryan said. “That’s what makes it so neat. To see that he’s become one of the best defensive backs on the team, it’s because he’s worked so hard at it. It has been fun watching him the last three years and see how much better he’s gotten. He’s got a tremendous ceiling in terms of improving as a player. He didn’t have to bear down too many times as a corner in high school and now he’s getting those finer points with his game.”

Senior linebacker Jonathan Truman has served as the leading voice of K-State’s conference-leading scoring defense and he said Burns’ provides the needed mentality that’s help them get to a top-10 ranking.

“Morgan’s a guy that’s not only tough physically, but mentally,” Truman said. “He prepares well. Whatever happens to him, if he gets a ball thrown on him, he’s going to be up next play ready to go. It’s not going to phase him and he’s going to do the best thing that can help our defense.”

In Ryan’s mind, the road to college football stardom began before Burns’ stepped onto the track or the football field.

“I only had Morgan for one year, but we spent a ton of time together with football and track,” Ryan said. “Probably one the things I’m most proud of him for is not his accomplishments athletically, but on a personal level and the character that he has, it’s unbelievable. He’s one of the best kids I’ve ever been around. That’s what makes it so special to see him have the success that he’s having as a player at K-State.”

Even beyond his game-changing interceptions against Texas Tech and Oklahoma, Snyder said Burns’ approach and purpose describes the identity he carries on Saturdays.

“He’s a pretty even-keeled young guy,” Snyder said. “You don’t see Morgan highly upset about anything and you don’t see him get overjoyed about anything. He just keeps a normal pace about himself. The other thing is he’s a very faith-based young guy. He depends upon that to give him guidance and direction.”

Ryan and Burns’ keep in contact regularly and he said the faith that the junior displays at Vanier Football Complex is something that he has displayed for as long as he has known him.

“He’ll send out an email to a lot of people in his life and I’m a part of that email chain,” Ryan said. “It just talks about his faith and where it all comes from with him and family and friends. I hope he continues to hold those things close to his heart and that his foundation can be a solid rock for him as he continues his college career.”