Oct. 8, 2010

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — From his wheelchair, a young man looked down on the field at Scott Stadium last Saturday. He watched as No. 18 slipped behind the Florida State secondary, hauled in a pass and sprinted to the end zone to complete a 76-yard play.

“It’s about time he got a long one,” Nick Burd said later.

Don’t be misled. This hard-core UVa fan was just having a little fun at his kid brother’s expense. Nick Burd, 24, takes enormous pride in the play of Kris Burd, who has emerged as an all-ACC candidate at wideout.

With 22 catches for 378 yards and 4 touchdowns, the 5-11, 195-pound redshirt junior leads the Wahoos in each of those categories. He’s also the first UVa player since tight end Heath Miller in 2003 to have back-to-back games with at least 100 yards receiving.

Burd totaled 119 yards versus VMI and 118 against Florida State.

“It’s amazing,” Nick said. “It’s just like the old days and watching him play in the backyard. Just more people rooting him on with me.”

Before Kris became a football standout at Matoaca High — he was named Central Region offensive player of the year as a 12th-grader — Nick, who stood 6-4, made headlines as an athlete at the Chesterfield County school near Petersburg.

“He was a beast in basketball,” Kris said.

After graduating from Matoaca in 2004, Nick spent a year at the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., and then enrolled at Southside Virginia Community College. His plan was to transfer to VMI, where he would play ball and be reunited his friend Reggie Williams, now with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

But in November 2005, Nick was in a car wreck that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

In an instant, Nick’s life changed. So did Kris’. He was three grades behind Nick in school, but the brothers were exceptionally close.

“We were together all day every day,” Nick recalled. “He was like my shadow in front.”

They played basketball and football together, with Nick’s friends, not Kris’. And that helped Kris become the player he is today.

“Just playing pickup football, being younger than everyone else, it kind of builds a toughness, a fearless attitude,” Kris said.

“I think I did a good job with him,” Nick said with a laugh. “We used to beat him up.”

The wreck meant the end of backyard games for Nick. Kris’ brother, his friend, his role model, the gifted athlete who once soared to the rim, was now lying in a hospital bed, unable to move most of his body.

“It made me realize how fragile life really is,” Kris recalled. “Just from that morning getting the phone call and then going up to the hospital, and [the doctors] not knowing. It could have gone either way.

“It’s a tough thing to grasp. Just looking at him there helpless, it makes you cherish the things you’ve got and use all of the tools that you have, athletically, because of a lot of people can’t do what you do.”

After leaving the hospital, Nick spent about six months at the Woodrow Wilson Rehabilitation Center in Staunton. There have been setbacks, but his persistence is paying off. Nick, who lives in Ettrick, returned to school this year — he’s taking classes at John Tyler Community College — and hopes to become a high school teacher and coach.

He has a new wheelchair that he can take apart and put together by himself, and he can get into his car, a Crown Victoria, on his own.

“He’s definitely on the right track,” Kris said. “He’s getting his life together.”

UVa football is a big part of that life. Nick makes all of the Cavaliers’ games at Scott Stadium, along with other relatives, including parents Terry and Roy Burd, sister Jasmine and another brother, Dejuan Hutchins, who also played football at Matoaca.

Nick is not among the family members who traveled to Atlanta this weekend, but he’ll be by his TV on Saturday to see UVa (0-1, 2-2) take on Georgia Tech (2-1, 3-2) in an ACC game at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Is it tougher now for Nick to watch his brother play, knowing that he will never experience the thrill of being a Division I athlete himself?

“It’s easier,” Nick said, “because at least the Burd name is still playing.”

Kris isn’t the first Matoaca graduate to distinguish himself at UVa, of course. Long before he enrolled at Virginia, there were James Farrior and Byron Thweatt in football and Harold Deane Jr. in basketball.

When Burd was in the 10th grade, in fact, Thweatt, then a football coach at Mataoca, took him to a game at Scott Stadium.

“He introduced me to the whole UVa thing,” Burd said.

For all his production at Matoaca, where he starred at wide receiver and safety, Burd wasn’t highly recruited. Virginia and Maryland offered him scholarships, and Virginia Tech showed some interest, but he wasn’t considered an elite prospect when he graduated from Matoaca in 2007.

Three years later, those analysts’ rankings look flawed. After playing in all 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2008, primarily on special teams, Burd had 31 catches for 413 yards (and 1 TD) last season. Both were team highs, but the ‘Hoos finished 3-9 and ranked among the nation’s worst in offensive production, so few people seemed to notice what Burd accomplished.

That’s no longer the case. Among ACC players, Burd ranks third in receiving yards per game (94.5).

“He’s the Hines Ward of our team right now,” said Shawn Moore, Virginia’s first-year receivers coach. “The guy could play any position on the field if he wanted to.

“I can tell you, he’s been truly incredible for us. If you looked back and you told me he wasn’t a highly recruited athlete, I would have thought something was wrong. I really would.”

What makes Burd special, UVa quarterback Marc Verica said, is that he’s “a complete player. He’s physical. He’s not afraid to take a hit, and he’ll definitely give a hit. He’s willing to block, and he’s very smart, and he runs good routes and he has good hands.”

On Saturday, the ‘Hoos will face a defense directed by Al Groh, a man most of the players know well. Groh spent nine seasons as Virginia’s head coach before being fired last November.

Had Groh been retained, Burd might well be putting up similar numbers this season. But he’s thrilled to be part of the culture that Groh’s successor, Mike London, and his assistants have established at UVa.

“I couldn’t tell you how much I like the new staff, just top to bottom,” Burd said. “Coach London came in and let it be known that it’s going to be a new era and it’s going to be a change, as far as the way we approach things, the way we practice, the way we dress, the way we go to class.

“He just kind of instilled a motivation and a vision for everybody on the team. From the first day he came, it just sparked a new energy and a new vibe for the whole team.”

UVa’s next home game is Oct. 16 against North Carolina, which hasn’t won at Scott Stadium since 1981. Nick Burd will be there, rooting for the streak to continue and for No. 18 to make more plays like the 76-yard touchdown reception against FSU.

With Nick in the stands, his little brother never lacks motivation.

“I don’t know how tough it is for him,” Kris said, “but with being as active as he was and athletic as he was, I’m almost sure he lives his athletic carer through me. I make sure every chance I get to tell him I play for him.”


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