Morgan Burns expects to return a kickoff for a touchdown against Kansas.
He hopes that statement doesn’t come off as a dig against the Jayhawks, because that’s not his intention. The Kansas State senior defensive back is simply confident.
How could he not be? Burns is on an unprecedented hot streak. He scored a touchdown and set a school record with 221 kickoff-return yards against Texas Tech two weeks ago. Then he had another scintillating effort against Iowa State, returning a kickoff 100 yards for a score. The Big 12 named him special teams player of the week after both games.
He wants more.
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“A touchdown is our goal every game,” Burns said. “It would be a huge success. I believe it can happen. I don’t even know if that has been done before. That would be a huge accomplishment for me, the team and the kick-return unit. I would love to do it.”
A strong finish could push Burns to the top of K-State’s record book as a returner. He is within reach of Brandon Banks’ single-season record 1,127 yards and four touchdowns as a return man in 2009. Burns currently has 846 yards and three touchdowns with at least two games remaining.
If he helps the Wildcats qualify for a bowl, his chances of topping the list improve. At the least, he has wrapped up the No. 2 spot.
Either way, K-State coach Bill Snyder is proud.
“Morgan gets on the field and plays about 17 snaps on defense on long drives and turns right around and gets invested on kickoff returns,” Snyder said, “and makes things happen when I know he is gassed. I appreciate that effort.”
Burns chuckles when asked to describe how fresh he feels when he takes the field for a kickoff return. That’s not the word he would use.
K-State’s secondary has struggled to defend the pass all season, allowing an average of 290.1 yards through the air. That’s never good in the pass-happy Big 12. Burns has had to run long distances against spread offenses since the year began.
Snyder often wonders how Burns can maintain the stamina to cover a receiver and return kicks. After long touchdown drives, he asks Burns if he needs to skip a kickoff and catch his breath. But the answer is always the same.
“He is a trooper,” Snyder said. “He just says, ‘No, I am fine. I am ready to go.’ ”
Only injuries have kept Burns off the field.
“I wouldn’t say I am fresh by any means,” Burns said. “But I make do. A lot of it comes from the week of practice, just conditioning. I have to have that in my head during the week as I am practicing, to run sprints and maybe go harder in practice to be ready to go on Saturday.”
The worst moments come after Burns returns a kickoff for a touchdown, when he is gasping for air after running the length of the field, fully aware he has to get back on the field and play defense.
“A lot of guys are trying to jump on me and scream and get me hyped,” Burns said. “I have to tell them, ‘Stop, I have got to catch my breath. I have got to go back in in about two minutes. It is a challenge, but as I have been doing it the last couple games I have gotten used to it.
“I know how to get my legs back under me. It has been fun.”
Snyder is so impressed with Burns’ stamina that he asked Burns to practice with K-State’s receivers during preseason practices. He wasn’t sure how much depth the Wildcats would have at that position, so they gave Burns a look.
Coaches decided K-State had adequate depth at the position and moved Burns back to defense, but he was close to playing offense, defense and special teams this season – Iron Man football in its truest form.
Burns says he would play all three in a heartbeat if Snyder asked, but he will happily stick with defensive back and kick returner.
He doesn’t want to mess up a good thing.
“Credit goes to the kick-return team,” Burns said. “I have gotten great blocks all year. They open up the daylight and I just hit the hole hard. I think we are all starting to realize what we are capable of, and we want to keep that going.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett