Morgan Burns has played cornerback at Kansas State for so long that it is difficult to remember he grew up on the other side of the ball. But he will never forget his football roots.
He started as a running back and stayed there throughout his time at Wichita Trinity Academy, so his desire to have the ball in his hands and make athletic plays continues to burn today.
“Having the ball in my hand is pretty natural,” said Burns, a senior. “I enjoy it. I love running. I love reacting to people, so running is kind of what I do. I ran track, as well. I just love to run. I think God has gifted me with the ability to run fast. Anytime I have the opportunity to get the ball and run with it, I am going to do it.”
The transition from running for first downs to knocking passes away from receivers is not easy, but Burns is glad he made the journey. His speed has allowed him to defend top receivers and outrun tacklers as a returner. He thinks his football experiences — recent and old — will help him on the field as he attempts to build on a promising junior season as a defender and take over for Tyler Lockett as K-State’s top kick returner.
Burns will need to utilize different skills to succeed in both areas. A year ago, he had his moments on both defense and special teams, but he battled consistency problems. He had brilliant games — intercepting two passes against Texas Tech and returning a kick 86 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma State. He had down games — rarely slowing his man against TCU and Baylor. And he was all over the place in others.
He learned an important lesson from those experiences.
“You have got to have a short memory,” Burns said. “I went up against a lot of great receivers and I got beat a handful of times. A lot of guys, when they get beat, it gets in their head mentally. You can kind of lose it and that will hinder your game. You have got to have a short memory. If you get beat you have got to learn from it and move on. I think that will really help going into this upcoming season.”
Burns will have support in all areas. On defense, he is part of a secondary that figures to be the strength of K-State’s defense.
Dante Barnett, a preseason nominee for five national awards, returns at safety. Danzel McDaniel, one of the hardest-hitting corners in the nation, will defend receivers on the opposite side. And K-State’s young linebackers know what it takes to help defend the pass.
“The sky is the limit,” Burns said. “I think it all comes down to how hard we want to work. I think it is real easy for guys to say, ‘I started last year. I don’t need to get better.’ But we have the mentality that we want to improve and grow on last season, especially in the little things. We have a great secondary. If we push ourselves to keep getting better, we can be one of the best.”
On special teams, Burns knows he will have support. K-State emphasizes that part of the game, so he knows how important it will be for him to set up the offense with good field position. He has studied video in the offseason to improve his craft.
Still, that is not where Burns expects to make the biggest impact. He said he has pushed himself to become a vocal leader, capable of helping his teammates. He wants the ball in his hands, but he knows that can’t happen unless he sets an example.
“Morgan has pride,” Barnett said. “He is a great athlete and he will challenge you. He won’t talk a lot of noise, but he will play with a chip on his shoulder. He is one of the best cornerbacks I have played with, and I can’t wait to see what he does this season.”