Yesterday, we kicked off the countdown to opening day by looking at Auburn’s #100 overall recruit, Jordan Colbert. Colbert was a bit of a mystery, as he never played a down of college football. Today, we look at a SIGNIFICANTLY more famous figure in Auburn athletics – Kodi Burns.
Let’s hop in the time machine and visit the fall of 2006. Kodi Burns, then a high school senior, was torching high school defenses at Northside High School in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He’s a consensus top-10 quarterback recruit in the country, making plays with both his arms and legs, with 2,738 total yards and 36 touchdowns. He’s got big name coaches trying to recruit him to their school. The two at the top of his list are the home state Arkansas, and your Auburn Tigers.
This is an Arkansas program, mind you, in the midst of one of its best seasons ever. After a blowout loss to open the year against USC, the Hogs start rattling of wins, highlighted by THE Hog Hex game – a 27-10 thumping of #2 Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium. This would propel Arkansas to a 10 game win streak and an appearance in the SEC Championship game under the direction of head coach Bobby Petrino and Kodi’s lead recruiter – offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
Despite being recruited by an Arkansas high school coaching legend, the 4* Burns ended up committing to Auburn that November. But it wouldn’t be the last time he would see Gus Malzahn…
Kodi came to Auburn and was immediately talked about as the next star on the Plains. So much so, in fact, that there was a sentiment amongst the fan base that he should replace incumbent starter Brandon Cox early in the season. So much so, in fact, that when Auburn was losing early to Mississippi State in the third game of the year, Kodi came in to replace the under-performing senior. Cox would regain the starting role the next week as Burns struggled against New Mexico State, and Kodi wouldn’t play a ton the rest of the season, but from then out, he was a fan favorite.
That is, until New Year’s Eve. Auburn was matched up with #13 Clemson in the Chik-fil-a Bowl. The game was a dog-fight, with Clemson up 7-3 at the half. As so often is the case against Clemson, the Auburn offense featured rotating quarterbacks, with Burns and Cox switching in and out every couple of snaps. Burns was able to find Super Mario Fannin for a 22 yard touchdown pass in the 4th quarter. The end of the game would be a back and forth struggle, going to overtime tied at 17 as the new year approached. With the Auburn defense stiffening and holding Clemson to a field goal, Kodi took a bad snap on 3rd and 3 and ran the ball in for a game winning touchdown. That play certainly put a euphoric cap on an otherwise average Auburn season, as hopes were high for an Auburn offense led by Kodi Burns and new spread OC Tony Franklin.
But then, 2008 was 2008. Kodi would split time with a JUCO transfer with a bad shoulder, and neither quarterback could make the most of Tony Franklin’s offense. Kodi would end up getting the bulk of the snaps at quarterback after Todd was held out after the Arkansas loss, but he was unable to get anything going for the Tigers. The season was lost, with Burns throwing 2 touchdowns to 7 interceptions on 51% passing, and just 411 yards rushing with 5 touchdowns.
Despite a changing of the guard from Tuberville to Chizik, and from Franklin to Gus Malzahn, Burns would lose the quarterback battle again to a healthy Chris Todd in 2009. Burns famously handled the decision with grace, telling the team he supported the coaches’ decisions. Wanting to help the team however he could, Malzahn worked Burns in at wide receiver and wildcat in 2009. It was unspectacular year for Kodi, with his best game coming in a 49-24 thumping of Mississippi State. Burns recorded 9 rushes for 32 yards and 3 touchdowns, a reception for two yards, and a completion for 13 yards and a touchdown.
And then there’s the 2010 season. Now a full-fledged wide receiver, Kodi was a big part of the offense. He didn’t light up the stat sheet, but he did a great job blocking in the slot for the running game. He would only catch 11 passes for 1 touchdown during the season, but the one touchdown was a beauty.
Oh, and we can’t forget that touchdown pass he threw, either.
Kodi Burns’s playing career took a windy route to Auburn lore, especially for a highly touted quarterback recruit. On the whole, he amassed 1312 passing yards with 7 touchdowns, 799 yards rushing with 14 touchdowns, and 16 catches for 223 yards and two touchdowns.
Kodi Burns wasn’t done with football when he graduated Auburn. Not by a long shot, in fact. When his old friend Gus Malzahn, who had begun recruiting him back in early 2006, took the head coaching job at Arkansas State in 2012, he offered a spot to Kodi Burns as a grad assistant. Kodi would then follow Gus back to Auburn in 2013, before accepting his first on-field coaching job in 2014 as Samford’s running backs coach. It was another year and another job for Kodi in 2015, when he accepted a job to coach in the P5 with MTSU as a wide receivers coach. After being hired on to coach running backs at Arizona State under former Malzahn-boss Todd Graham and new OC Chip Lindsey in January of 2016, Burns was quickly rehired by Malzahn and Auburn to replace Dameyune Craig a few weeks later. Kodi is now going into his fourth season as an Auburn assistant coach, having recruited several highly touted wide receivers the last few years, some of whom will show up later on in this countdown.
If you just look at production numbers, it’s hard to argue that Kodi wasn’t a miss. He didn’t work out as a quarterback, and he only had a handful of touches after he became a wide receiver. But Kodi Burns was, and is, more than his numbers. He was a locker room leader for a program going through uncertain times. He worked hard, and showed you can contribute to a team even if you aren’t the star. He’s found his way back to Auburn, instilling that spirit into our program today. I think we’d all like to give a big War Eagle to that.
Up next, we’re going to look at another player who has had to switch positions a few times to help the team.