, a junior at Northwestern (Miami, Fla.)
, is the nation's No. 1 hurdler, but he stressed this week that football still is his No. 1 love.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder has the nation's top times in the 110-meter hurdles (13.35 seconds) and the 300-meter hurdles (36.06). Last year he set a national sophomore-class record with a 13.63 clocking in the 110 and ran the 300 in 36.60 to place second at the Golden West Invitational.
He has such a great upside as a hurdler that Bershawn "Batman" Jackson, currently ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400-meter hurdles, told MaxPreps: "My personal opinion is that if he focused strictly on track and field, he would go professional right out of high school."
Still, Burns is one of the nation's top 10 cornerback prospects and already has 25 scholarship offers, including Miami, Florida State, Louisiana State, Southern California and Alabama. He pledged to Alabama in December, but since has decommitted.
He explained, "I just wanted to let the recruiting process come in."
Last fall, playing safety, Burns made 80 tackles, 10 for losses. He also broke up 12 passes, caused four fumbles and made one interception. So, is he just a fast track guy in pads?
New Northwestern football coach Stephen Field, who has been working with Burns in spring practice, pointed out, "He kind of shocked me. He's a very physical player. He's got world-class speed. He's very coachable and a very humble young man."
But as soon as spring practice is completed, Burns will be back on the track preparing for some major summer events, including the Great Southwest Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M. He still hopes to make the USA World Juniors team and lower his national season-bests in both events.
Burns pointed out, "(The hurdles) make me stronger for football. It always will be my first love. When I get on the field, I can do whatever I want."
He has been competing in both sports since he was 5 years old, encouraged by a father, Artie Sr., who coached football, and a mother, Dana, who coached track. A few years later he came under the coaching of Jesse Holt at the Miami Northwest Express Track Club.
Initially he ran sprints and did a couple field events. However, at age 11, Burns was given a shot at the hurdles, because, Holt explained, "He was big enough and tall enough, had good speed but not great speed for the 100."
He proved to be a natural in the 80-meter hurdles and during his second year won a national age-group championship. Overall, he has won four national age-group titles during summer competition.
When Burns entered Northwestern as a freshman, he played junior varsity football and was ready to help the varsity track team until he was ruled academically ineligible due to a low grade-point average.
Track coach Darryl Elmore recalled, "He ran a 49.0 quarter; that caught our eye. If he had (been eligible) we had at least a guaranteed 16 points (in every meet). We started putting him on progress report. He just had to finish his work and complete assignments. He learned his lesson and had no problems whatsoever."
Burns admitted, "It was hard. I let the team down. Our 4x4 was going to be national. I felt bad for the guys. I learned my lesson. I had to buckle down and get my books."
As a sophomore, Burns captured the 110 (13.66) and 300 (36.96) hurdles at the prestigious Bob Hayes Invitational in Jacksonville, Fla. He later won the state Class 4A 110 in 13.63 and was second in the 300 (37.31) despite cramps.
That summer he captured firsts in both specialties during the USATF Youth Championships. He won the intermediate boys 110 in 13.90 and the 400 in 52.23. His junior performance in the Bob Hayes Invitational was big-time, setting records in the 110 hurdles (13.35) and the 300 (36.14). The meet drew 200 teams and over 1,000 individuals.
Before the meet, he predicted records, but family members thought he was joking. He told his mother, "Just sit back and watch."
Burns said this week, "I really got recognized for breaking those records. I could have run faster if I had better competition. It was early in the year and I was running so fast. I was ahead of all the others."
The records he broke had stood since 1985 when future NFL wide receiver Michael Timpson of Miami Lakes (Hialeah, Fla.) won the 110 in 13.4 and the 300 in 36.8.
Burns had another memorable performance during the Louie Bing Invitational. Coach Elmore said he had his ace winning the 110 in a blazing 13.1 seconds, Many others who had hand-held times clocked him around 13-flat. However, because the electronic clock malfunctioned, officials gave him a time of 13.6.
Despite the frustration, Burns said, "I feel like I did it once and I can do it again."
At the state Class 3A meet this spring, he won the 110 hurdles in 13.71, but was automatically disqualified in the 300 when hamstring problems caused him to stumble and knock over a hurdle late in the race.
"Batman" Jackson, winner of two Olympic medals, has played a major role in Burns' development. Though he lives in Raleigh, N.C., he returns home to Miami every summer. He pointed out that at the same age, Burns has better times in both hurdles than he had while at Miami Central.
"That just shows how talented he is," the 29-year-old Jackson noted. "He's going to be a known athlete. He has the personality and character to be a great athlete. I think he's going to be one of the greatest. He doesn't know how much talent he has. He can get a whole lot better. The sky is the limit for that kid."
However, he still has to learn what it takes to be great.
During Christmas break, Jackson asked him to work out. They were going to do two 600s and then five 300s.
"He thought that was going to be a piece of cake," Jackson related. "(After the two 600s) he tried to hide under a tree because he was tired. I had to show him what it takes to be a professional athlete. He finally finished the workout, but it took a long time."
Burns spends a lot of time with older athletes.
He puts it this way: "I hang out with older guys, because they know what you've got to do. Younger guys haven't gotten there yet."
That all-important knowledge and experience also comes to him through his coaches.
Holt explained that in his role, "They set goals and I give them the workouts and supervision. The sky is the limit, but a coach can't set limits. The athlete has to set the limit."
Elmore predicts, "He eventually will be a great 110 hurdler. I think he will dominate the 110. The Olympics (some day) should be easy. In the 300, he's got to get his mind set and do the work."