Kris Burd: The Road Back
By Cayce Troxel, Virginia Media Relations
When Kris Burd was injured during a practice three weeks into the Cavaliers’ 2010 season, the Virginia wide receiver was given two options by his doctors. He could have reconstructive surgery immediately, ending his season but preserving a year of eligibility. Or he could continue to play through his pain and postpone the surgery until the offseason.
For Burd, the decision was easy.
“I knew that if I could help my team in any way, that’s what I needed to do,” Burd said. “I kind of put the injury on the back-burner and just kept going.”
With an ankle brace serving as the only visual evidence of his injury, Burd went on to compile a team-high 58 catches while becoming only the 30th player in Virginia history to amass more than 1,000 receiving yards. Together with teammate Dontrelle Inman, Burd became part of the most successful receiving duo in Cavalier history.
Burd’s sacrifice-and his year-end statistics-may have impressed the Virginia faithful, but the wide receiver views his accomplishments from a very different perspective. As painful as his injury may have been, it was still nothing compared what he has seen a loved one endure.
In 2005, Kris’ older brother, Nick, was injured in a car accident. Nick was fortunate enough to survive, but the broken neck he suffered left him a quadriplegic. A former standout basketball player at Matoaca High School with hopes of eventually playing at VMI, Nick found himself in a wheelchair for life. And Kris found himself an inspiration.
“I tell him all the time that I’m doing this for him,” Burd said. “I know his athletic career is over due to his accident and I know that he’s living his athletic career through me. Every time that I step on the field and I get a chance to really do something physical on the field or in a sport, I make sure that I go all out because I know he can’t do it anymore.”
Burd might be playing for Nick now, but it is actually because of Nick that he began playing football in the first place. A younger brother to both Nick and his eldest brother, Dejuan Hutchins, Kris naturally wanted to do everything his older siblings did. And in the Burd household, that usually meant something to do with sports.
“He tried to do everything I did,” Nick Burd said. “I couldn’t do anything without him trying to do it, too-even if he wasn’t old enough. He was always right there with me, and I was trying to show him how to do it.”
“Kris has always believed in his mind that he was the same age as his brothers,” said Kris’ mother, Terry Burd. “He was Nick’s younger brother, but he never felt like a younger brother. He was toe-to-toe with his brothers from age five when he started flag football and it’s always been that way. He just wants to beat his brother. That’s his whole goal in life.”
As heated as the competition with Nick may have gotten at times, Kris believes he would not be the Division I talent he is today if not for his older siblings.
“I owe the fact that I’m here and that I’m the person I am to my older brothers just because they never let me quit on anything I was doing and never let me be like, ‘I’m too little, I’m too small,'” Burd said. “Just hanging with the older crowd and playing pick-up basketball and football games with them built up that toughness and that ‘don’t back down’ mentality in me.”
Such determination-coupled with his brother’s inspiration-helped Burd fight through the final 10 games of the 2010 season in spite of his injury. The Cavalier’s rehabilitation, however, forced him to focus on a different aspect of his game.
“It helped me become even more of a student of the game-mentally getting reps and mentally looking at film,” Burd said. “I kind of used it as a learning tool.”
Known for his savvy route-running at wide receiver, Burd had still relied mostly on his physicality to get away from the opponent’s secondary in the past. During his time off, Burd learned other ways of getting an edge on rival safeties.
“Instead of running the routes myself, I looked at other people running it, trying to see things that I might do better,” Burd said. “I started breaking things down more critically than I would if I were on the field. Being a wide receiver is an extremely detailed position, and the more you pay attention to the little things, the better your whole game will evolve.”
While Burd hopes his offseason study sessions-and the reconstructive surgery that he underwent last spring-will help develop his performance on the field, the Cavalier coaching staff has already seen the wide receiver undergo a transformation off of it. Now a fifth-year senior and by far the most experienced member of Virginia’s receiving corps, the typically soft-spoken Burd has had to become more of a vocal leader on the team this season.
“My role has definitely changed-just by the fact that a lot of things happen during the course of the game and I’ve experienced a lot of them,” commented Burd. “I feel like we’ve got some young guys coming in who are going to have a role on offense this year, and it’s kind of our job to teach them-outside of the coaches and outside of practice-so they’re ready for the season.”
Even though Burd’s position on the team has changed with his veteran status-and his star-worthy performance-his character has remained static.
“He’s been the same since he could talk,” Nick Burd said. “It’s good to see that he hasn’t really changed with the fame, popularity, his success on the field and off the field.
“He’s been humble all his life,” Terry Burd said. “You wouldn’t even know that he’s as good as he is if you were just to meet him and just talk to him. He doesn’t brag about his accomplishments. He just goes out and does his job. He’s just a good guy and just very level-headed. He’s very caring and compassionate.”
While Burd demonstrated such devotion to his teammates when he played through pain last season, he continues to show the same level of devotion toward his family.
“Kris puts us before everything and everybody,” Terry Burd said. “Our family has been through a lot. We had the cookie-cutter family with Mom, Dad and kids, but suddenly things just started happening. My son’s accident was devastating, and then a couple years ago, I got breast cancer. Things just happened that would have set most people back, that would break most people. But Kris just wants everybody to be healthy and happy. He wants everybody to be proud of him. And I couldn’t be more proud of him right now.”