Receiver eyes a return to the gridiron in 2001

by Anthony Maggio

The Minnesota football team has played in bowl games the last two seasons thanks in part to a solid arsenal of receivers – including five who had over 15 receptions each last year.

With three of those five receivers unavailable for the 2001 campaign, it is time for someone to step up.

The Gopher offense will be without Jack Brewer, who moved to the defensive side of the ball, Jermaine Mays, who is ineligible this season, and Elvin Jones, who decided to leave the team. The three combined for just under 30 percent of the teams receptions last season, hauling in a total of 60 passes.

The loss of these players leaves starting roles vacated, which means young talent must fill the void, including junior college transfer Antoine Burns.

“We’ve been pretty high on Antoine,” coach Glen Mason said. “We’ve been waiting for a chance to get him in a game again.”

While at Rochester Community College, Burns was named a junior college GRIDWIRE All-American after catching 58 passes for 1,100 yards in 1999. He also scored 23 touchdowns.

Burns appeared in only three games for a total of 57 plays last season, catching one pass before redshirting with knee and finger injuries.

This season, Burns is likely to fill the starting role at outside receiver, a switch from the inside receiver spot he has played in the past.

The move to outside fills the position vacated by Mays, and since it is not Burns’ natural position, he must quickly learn his new role.

“He’s working hard,” wide receivers coach Richard Wilson said. “I think he’s adapted well to some of the techniques we need to execute at his position; he’s done a good job.”

Which receiver spot he plays doesn’t concern Burns. He is just anxious to play again – be it starter or otherwise – after sitting out most of last season.

“It’s something personal for me to be out there playing,” Burns said. “I’m going to do what I have to do to get back out on the field. I put a responsibility on myself to go out there and work hard and make plays on the field.”

The hard work Burns puts in on the field has been noticed by his teammates and coaches. Coach Wilson said Burns gives an all-out effort and has a great attitude.

Burns’ teammates, receiver Ron Johnson and quarterback Travis Cole, have also noted Burns’ efforts toward preparing for the upcoming season.

“He’s one of the better younger guys I’ve seen,” Johnson said. “He’s going to do a lot of good things as far as helping us out speed-wise and stretching the field out.”

“He’s definitely going to have to step up,” Cole added.

Burns is projected to start at wide receiver, but there’s talent across the depth chart both young and old as well. Antoine Henderson, Tony Patterson, Clarence Woods, Jubril Akinwale and Damian Cannaday round out the receiver core expected to make contributions this season.

No matter if he starts or not, Burns just hopes to stay healthy and be a contributor this season.

“I’m just going to go out there and practice, work hard and make plays for the team,” Burns said. “I’m just out there to help the team get as far as we can get.”


Anthony Maggio covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]