AUBURN, Ala. — At 28 years old, Kodi Burns is younger than the average college football coach.
Burns has made a fast rise up the coaching ranks since finishing up his Auburn playing career in 2010. Since 2012, Burns has taken the fast track from Arkansas State grad assistant to Auburn wide receivers coach. He’s one of only five position coaches across the SEC under 30 years old, which should be applauded, not criticized.
That’s not always the case.
In his first recruiting cycle as receivers coach, Auburn hauled in two wide receivers — Noah Igbinoghene and JaTarvious Whitlow. Both are impressive talents, but their recruiting rankings didn’t make Tigers’ fans celebrate the way they would’ve with potential additions like Henry Ruggs or Nico Collins.
Burns has heard the critics. He’s ready to quiet them during the 2018 recruiting cycle.
“I think that obviously the year before we signed a big-time class with Nate Craig, Kyle Davis, Eli Stove, Marquis McClain. So really the urgency of a recruiting class that year wasn’t that high per se as it will be this year because you’ve always got to have some separation in there,” Burns said. “But I’m pleased with the type of men that we got and the type of players that we got.”
He knows the 2018 class will be a big one for the receiver position. He knows he will be judged on his performance in this cycle. That drives him.
But Burns doesn’t feel pressure to succeed on the recruiting trail because he knows the groundwork he set for the 2018 class when he started the job. The Tigers have a long list of high-priority receiver targets — Justyn Ross, Seth Williams, Matthew Hill, Jacob Copeland, Kearis Jackson and Marquez Ezzard, to name a few — who all are high on Auburn.
That’s Burns, the recruiter, in action.
His work isn’t complete. There aren’t any commitments yet, though there certainly are a few on the verge. And that’s where most of the criticism comes in. The “outside world,” as Burns referred to it, doesn’t have any hard proof of what he can do as a recruiter yet, so he knows the onus is on him to show it.
Burns finds solace knowing that, just because he’s newer to an SEC position coach role, he has found recruiting gems at all of his previous stops — including his time as an Auburn grad assistant in 2013.
“Obviously what a lot of people don’t realize is that even as a graduate assistant you do recruit — you just don’t go on the road and recruit. So I’ve been doing this now about six years and I’ve been a part of a lot of recruiting classes,” Burns said. “But it’s always good to go off on your own, get your own room and actually sign some guys, which I’ve done for now three years.”
The baffling thing about Burns’ recruiting criticism: Much of it suggests it’s because he’s too young to succeed, which is somewhat backwards logic — at least if you take recruits’ opinions into account.
Burns is able to connect with 18-year-old prospects in a way that most older position coaches are less capable of doing. He has experienced the Auburn lifestyle as a wide receiver. Only seven seasons ago, he was playing in a national championship game. Recruits identify with that, and Burns uses it to his advantage on the recruiting trail.
“I just think that really being able to relate to these guys is the positive. Being a younger guy that gets it, that’s not that far removed. That understands that hey, I know what you’re going through I know what you’re feeling,” Burns said. “Just the relationship aspect that I can relate to them on a different level than most guys can, I think is a really positive thing.”
Want proof of that strengthened relationship? Just ask Auburn’s top wide receiver targets.
That’s what SEC Country did last Sunday at the Nike Opening camp in Atlanta. Five of Auburn’s most high-profile wide receiver targets were asked their opinion on Burns’ youth and how it affects their impression of Auburn.
Predictably, they all issued 5-star reviews.
4-star WR Seth Williams, Paul W. Bryant (Ala.)
“We’re real good. We talk and text every chance we get. He talks with my dad and mom all the time, too. He’s cool. He understands where you’re coming from. I mean, he just played in the national championship against Oregon, so he’s real cool and understands you. He’s young like you. He came through Auburn. He knows it.”
4-star WR Justyn Ross, Central (Ala.)
“We’re very close. We talk almost every day. Not just football, but life. Since he’s younger, I connect with him a lot more because he understands everything that’s going on with me in my life. That’s a big thing.”
4-star WR Jacob Copeland, Escambia (Fla.)
“It’s always good talking with Coach Burns. He’s a cool dude, man. He speaks it real to me, how everything would be set up if I were to come to Auburn. Him being a young guy, it’s easier to relate to, and that makes all the difference.”
4-star WR Matthew Hill, Brookwood (Ga.)
“He’s a young guy. He just left the NCAA football-wise, playing at the next level, so he knows what he’s talking about. He gets it from my perspective. It helps because I like to have a good relationship with the coach. Because he’s younger, I know it can definitely be a stronger relationship.”
4-star WR Kearis Jackson, Peach County (Ga.)
“It’s like a big brother-little brother thing because he’s so young. He treats me like I’m his younger brother, and he’s always giving me good advice. It’s easier to identify with. You get some real-deal things about recruiting because — him actually going to Auburn recently, winning a national championship, that means a lot. It helps show me how things are actually going to be in college.”