By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Kodi Burns bought in when he moved from an Auburn quarterback to an Auburn wide receiver on the way to the 2010 national championship.
Now, Auburn's newest coach is teaching a new era of Auburn wide receivers to follow his lead, to catch passes, sure, like he did in the national title game; but also to block down field, like he did on any given Saturday.
Tony Stevens says he sees an opportunity by following Burns' advice in spring practice.
"He's out there like he's one of us. He's really hands-on," Stevens said. "He shows it, and then we do it. He does receiver drills that I've never done before, ball drills on the floor and even before practice he's out there coming up to us one-on-one and doing drills with us. I think it's going to be a big help."
Burns is only 5½ years removed from his last college season. Stevens figures he better listen.
"He brings the energy," Stevens said. "He makes us be physical. I think that's what he's coaching — that's his main focus right now."
Being physical could be Stevens' ticket at a position where opportunities exist. The Tigers must replace Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray. Stevens, now a senior, is the second-leading returning receiver to Marcus Davis. Davis had 40 catches last season. Stevens had 14 catches for 159 yards.
He says he's ready to add on.
"You never know when you're time is going to come," he said. "So every time in practice I always practice like 'I'm going get ready to play.' I feel like I'm ready. Since last year, like the perfect moment, like Kentucky — my first game out there — I was ready because I was prepared for it. Now I'm preparing for Clemson."
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Stevens says one of his strengths is his size. And, "people don't think I'm fast, but once I get up on you, you'll see how fast I am. I think one of my weaknesses is probably me being a leader. I have to be more vocal out there. I know for a fact from last year to now that people been looking up to me, so I have to be more vocal."
Stevens is on the receiving end of a quarterback race that features Sean White and Jeremy Johnson, both of whom started last season; and newcomer and junior college transfer John Franklin III. Stevens said each has a "tremendous arm."
"All of them can get it down the field 60 yards plus. All of them are accurate," Stevens said. "I throw with all of them in the offseason. They're all leaders, they all want to win, and competition brings out the best in people, so I see the best in them."
Stevens said Franklin has reminded him of Nick Marshall in Auburn's first six spring practices.
"I see a lot of similarities. Their quickness, their shifty-ness, their speed obviously to get outside, the arm strength - they both have the same arm strength," Stevens said.
"He's a leader. As soon as he got here he texted all the receivers 'let's get it, let's go throw on his own time.' Usually the receivers will text the quarterbacks 'let's go throw.' He texted us and wanted to be there, what he wanted to do and how he wanted it. He's pretty much a leader in my eyes. On the field, you can see he's having fun out there. He's already at home."
Stevens said he was surprised that Franklin rounded up the receivers so quickly.
"He got us in a group message and I was like, 'How did he get all of our numbers?'"
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine