Jan. 5, 2014
Kodi Burns hopes to be part of a second Auburn national championship in four years (Lauren Barnard photo)
By Phillip Marshall
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - The night of Jan. 10, 2011, and the events that followed will be with Kodi Burns always. He caught the first touchdown pass of his career in the biggest game of his career and celebrated the 2010 national championship when Auburn beat Oregon 22-19. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and stood next to the President of the United States when he presented him an Auburn jersey on the team's visit to the White House.
Monday he'll be on the big stage again as a graduate assistant when No. 2 Auburn (12-1) plays No. 1 Florida State (13-0) in the BCS Championship Game at the Rose Bowl.
"Those are amazing memories," Burns said Saturday at BCS Media Day. "To score a touchdown in the national championship is a big deal. I'm proud I was able to be a part of the Auburn family and help Auburn win the game."
Burns became an Auburn favorite forever in 2009. Bitterly disappointed when Chris Todd was named the starting quarterback, he stood before his teammates and told them he was behind Todd and they should be, too. He moved to wide receiver and became a ferocious blocker.
Malzahn, Auburn's offensive coordinator from 2009-2011, noticed the unselfishness and dedication. Burns, from Fort Smith, Ark., had known and respected Malzahn as the head coach at Springdale (Ark.) High School, and later the offensive coordinator at Arkansas and Tulsa.
When Malzahn was named head coach at Arkansas State after the 2011 season, he hired Burns as a graduate assistant. After Malzahn moved to Auburn in December 2012, he hired Burns again.
Burns is no ordinary graduate assistant. Much as offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was in his days as a graduate assistant, Burns is frequently at Malzahn's side.
"I'm with him just about all day every day as far as far as getting practice ready, looking at tendencies for different teams," Burns said. "It's been Florida State the last month. It's everything you want to be able to show the players and the quarterback."
Burns sees it as a unique opportunity to learn at least some of the secrets that made Malzahn a winner in high school and have made him a winner in college.
"I always wanted to play for him," Burns said. "Now to be able to coach with him and be beside him during the games is pretty exciting for me."
One of Burns' projects has been quarterback Nick Marshall, who arrived last summer from Garden City (Kan.) Community College and has ignited Auburn's offense with his leg and his arm. Burns has helped Marshall become magician-like running the zone read and with other intricacies of playing quarterback.
"I've helped him with that, but far as off the field, I try to guide him about how to grow into a man and be a better person," Burns said. "I think he's handled it pretty well, because he's led this team really well on and off the field.
"It's no secret he's improved every week. Nick is a very good quarterback, and he's grown week by week."
For the past month, Burns and Marshall have focused on ball security. Marshall lost two fumbles in the first half of Auburn's 59-42 victory over Missouri in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.
"Pretty much he's always going to be holding the football," Burns said. "If Jeremy (Johnson) is getting reps or Jonathan (Wallace) is getting reps, Nick is going to be in the back going through his progressions and holding the football. He's always got a football."
When Marshall least expects it, Burns will try to knock the ball loose. He said he hasn't had a lot of luck doing that in recent weeks.
"I'm always trying to knock it out all practice," Burns said. "He's done a pretty good job of keeping it high and tight."
And when Marshall doesn't hold it high and tight? "There are some repercussions that come with that," Burns said. "Ball security is the No. 1 issue. You have to take care of the ball, no matter what."
Burns said Marshall and the Tigers of 2013 don't need him to tell them the significance of Monday night's game. They know, and they welcome the opportunity.
"They know what went on in 2010," Burns said. "That's what they want to live up to. They want to have their own legacy, and I think they will have it this year."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: