July 21, 2011

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — After what surely seemed at times like the longest five months of his life, UVa wide receiver Kris Burd cleared a major hurdle Monday. Burd’s doctors gave the fifth-year senior from Chesterfield County permission to train with no restrictions.

“It feels fine, other than just regular soreness,” Burd said Wednesday of his surgically repaired right ankle. “That’s only natural. When you cut somebody open and then seal them up, it’s going to be sore from time to time.”

Burd hurt a ligament in the ankle during a bye-week practice last September. He played through considerable pain in the Cavaliers’ final 10 games, yet still finished the season with 58 catches for 799 yards and five touchdowns.

He’s eager to see what he can do this fall on two good wheels, and so are his coaches.

“To do what he did [was impressive],” wide receivers coach Shawn Moore said. “The kid had to have major surgery after the season, but he never really complained. There were times we couldn’t practice him, but he still came out on Saturday and performed.”

Burd and his doctors had hoped to avoid surgery, but his offseason rehabilitation did not produce the desired improvement in his ankle. “It got to the point where it was like, ‘Do you think you can do another season on it like that?’ ” Burd recalled. “And I was just like, ‘No.’ ”

And so in February a surgeon “kind of reconstructed all my ligaments. Tightened them up,” Burd said in June. “It’s definitely more stable and secure now than it was.”

He didn’t shed his crutches until late March, and so had to be a spectactor during spring practice. Burd tried to turn that into a positive.

“It was a learning experience,” he said. “It’s a different view than what a typical spring would usually be, because in the spring you get a lot of reps and a lot of coaching. So I was kind of sitting back from a coach’s point of view, and listening and seeing the things that I wouldn’t be able to see out there on the field, seeing it from the sidelines. I feel like it helped me get a better knowledge for the game, knowledge for the playbook.”

His workload steadily increased as his ankle healed, and the 5-11, 195-pound Burd has been lifting weights and running for months. Under strength coach Evan Marcus, Burd has recorded personal bests in such lifts as the bench, squat and clean this summer.

“I’ve been conditioning, just doing the things that I could do and not pushing it too much,” Burd said. “I feel faster and stronger than ever, really.”

Until this week, however, he was not allowed to make sharp cuts on the field, which kept Burd from participating in the seven-on-seven drills the players organize in the summer.

“That was the thing they held me from,” he said, “competing man on man. It’s kind of like [missing] the spring: It’s tough watching it and not being able to actually do it, but that day’s coming.”

In 2010, Burd teamed with senior Dontrelle Inman (51 catches for 815 yards and three TDs) to form the top receiving tandem in UVa history. With Inman gone, No. 18 figures to have an even higher profile in the Wahoos’ offense this fall.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that Kris Burd is going to be the guy this year,” Moore said. “I expect him to kind of lead by example on the field, since he’s going to be surrounded by a lot of young guys.”

For his career, Burd has 96 receptions for 1,277 yards and six TDs. That he was he able to be so productive at less than full strength last year is “building up more excitement for this season,” Burd said.

At Matoaca High School, Burd starred for one of the Richmond area’s top football programs. That’s made one aspect of his college experience frustrating. In 2007, when Burd redshirted, Virginia went 9-4 and played in the Gator Bowl. Since then, the ‘Hoos have finished 5-7, 3-9 and, last year, 4-8.

“Losing never gets easier,” Burd said. “I hate losing. It’s just something I never accept. This being my last season and coming off of surgery, I’m just trying to get everybody on the same page and focused on winning.”

Burd and UVa’s other seniors have an overriding goal: to play in a bowl game this season.

“Because the guys that came in with me are the only guys [in the program] who have experienced a bowl game,” Burd said. “I feel like we’re cutting ourselves short if we don’t make it to a bowl game, because it’s an experience that everyone needs. It’s kind of an extra initiative and drive, just to let guys know, ‘This will be the best time of your life if we make it to this bowl game.’ ”

For Burd’s first three years in the program, the Cavaliers’ head coach was Al Groh. Mike London replaced Groh after the 2009 season and hired Bill Lazor as offensive coordinator.

Lazor is the third offensive coordinator for whom Burd has played at Virginia. The first was Groh’s son Mike, a former UVa quarterback who left the coaching staff after the 2008 season. Gregg Brandon replaced Mike Groh but had no more success as coordinator.

In 2009, Virginia ranked 118th out of 120 teams nationally in total offense and 105th in scoring offense. In the Cavaliers’ first season under Lazor, they ranked 37th in total offense and 75th in scoring offense.

From its 2010 offense, UVa lost several starters, including Inman, tailback Keith Payne and quarterback Marc Verica, but much proven talent returns. Veterans include wideouts Burd, Tim Smith and Matt Snyder, tight ends Colter Phillips and Paul Freedman, tailback Perry Jones, fullback Max Milien and linemen Oday Aboushi, Morgan Moses, Anthony Mihota and Austin Pasztor.

“From two years ago to last year, it was a big jump, as far as offensive production, and I feel like it’s going to be the same way this year,” Burd said.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had three different offenses and been kind of ping-ponging back and forth between what type of offense we’re running. Last year we learned it in the spring and did it in training camp, and we were still adding stuff during the season. But now it’s kind of like you know what the coaches are expecting, you know how it should be done. It’s just about executing the finer details. And I feel like year 2 in this offense will be a lot better than year 1.”

After his breakout year in 2010, Burd is no longer anonymous around the league. He’ll be one of the two players, along with all-conference cornerback Chase Minnifield, representing UVa at ACC Football Kickoff, an annual media gathering that starts Sunday in Pinehurst, N.C.

Still, Burd said, “I like being the unknown guy. I’m not too big on the limelight or the glamour. I just want to go out there and produce. If they know about me, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s fine too. I just want to win some ball games this year.”

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