MANHATTAN – Morgan Burns has been both a hero and a goat this season, often bouncing from one extreme to the other within the course of a single football game.
“You have to have a short memory,” Burns said, “because if you have a bad play happen to you, you can very easily be thinking about that play the whole game. That can just cause you to not play well or have things in your mind that you don’t want in your mind.”
Burns, Kansas State’s junior cornerback, has done an exceptional job leaving the past where it belongs and focusing on the future. Coach Bill Snyder recruited him out of Trinity Academy because of his speed, which is among the best you will find in the Big 12. But his mental approach is what has truly allowed him to rise up the depth chart and earn a permanent starting spot in K-State’s secondary. He doesn’t allow plays – no matter how negative or positive they may be – to impact his emotions.
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In other words, he has a good poker face.
“He is a pretty even-keeled young guy,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “You don’t see Morgan get highly upset about anything or overjoyed really about anything. He just keeps a rather normal pace about himself.”
That was most evident in the way he responded to a nightmare game against Oklahoma, in which the Sooners relentlessly exploited Burns. Oklahoma receiver Sterling Shepard crushed him for 15 catches, 197 yards and a touchdown, with the score coming on a 47-yard pass that Burns was unprepared for. He read run and allowed Shepard to sprint untouched into the end zone. Burns was solely to blame.
Still, he didn’t let that get him down.
Instead, he paved forward and made a key fourth-quarter interception in the end zone, helping K-State hold on for a 31-30 road victory. Then he helped K-State shut out Texas, limiting the Longhorns to 106 passing yards. After that, he helped K-State hold Oklahoma State to a single offensive touchdown and 148 passing yards.
Don’t forget, he also returned a kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown against the Cowboys.
“He has made two huge plays for us,” K-State linebacker Will Davis said. “I can’t even tell you which one was bigger. ... He has that great cornerback I-am-on-an-island mindset. Nothing is going to faze him. That is his biggest asset.”
It took time for Burns to develop his stone-cold approach, and he says he wouldn’t be where he is today without the constant support of his teammates.
He will once again be tested Saturday when K-State takes on a TCU offense that is averaging 48 points. But Burns seems ready for the challenge.
A short memory will help. Then again, it’s been a while since Burns needed to forget about a bad play.
“It just builds into my confidence, especially the kickoff return,” Burns said. “I obviously hadn’t made any huge returns on kick return since I’ve been here. It just helps me to enjoy the game more and to just have fun. I think when you are having fun is when you are playing at your best.”