By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The National Football Foundation held its annual awards dinner Tuesday night at the New York Hilton Midtown, and when University of Virginia linebacker Micah Kiser gave his acceptance speech after winning the William V. Campbell Trophy, his audience included Tom Burns.

“I was so proud of him,” Burns said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Everybody I talked to was impressed with how mature he was, his gratitude and humility, and how his pride came through. He really did an amazing job.”

Kiser and Burns now share a special bond. The Campbell Trophy, referred to as the `Academic Heisman,’ is awarded each year to the college football player who best combines academic success, on-field performance and community leadership.

Burns, who played linebacker at UVA for Hall of Fame coach George Welsh, won the award, then known as the Vincent DePaul Draddy Trophy, in 1993. Burns now lives in Aiken, South Carolina, with his wife, Robin, and their four children, but he travels to New York for the NFF awards banquet every December.

“To have him there was awesome,” Kiser said on a conference call Wednesday.

Burns, the senior vice president in charge of nuclear operations for Parsons Corporation, earned three degrees in nuclear engineering from UVA: his bachelor’s and master’s in 1995 and his Ph.D. in 1998.

“That’s a great guy to look up to,” Kiser said last month.

Burns remains a passionate supporter of Virginia football, and when he was in Charlottesville early last month for the Georgia Tech game he met Kiser.

“I had a chance to talk to him and thank him for all he’d done for the program,” Burns said. “I was just incredibly impressed with Micah.”

The feeling is mutual. “Everything [Burns is] doing for UVA, and how great of an ambassador for the program and the school he is,” Kiser said, “is awesome.”

Kiser, who’s from Baltimore, is the ACC’s leading tackler for the third straight season. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs last spring and is now pursuing a master’s degree in higher education, with a focus on athletics administration.

“For the way that he plays, for the way that he represents the University of Virginia community, for the way that he’s excelled in academics, there’s no more deserving person, no more deserving student-athlete than Micah Kiser,” UVA athletics director Craig Littlepage said in New York.

UVA’s other representatives at the NFF awards banquet included Bronco Mendenhall, who’s in his second season as the Wahoos’ head football coach.

“Micah is an amazing young man, and for him to win the `Academic Heisman’ is a powerful tribute to not only he and his parents, but also the University of Virginia,” Mendenhall said. “It’s my privilege and my honor to be able to play a small part in being his coach, and I’m really proud of him.”

After 16 years as the Cavaliers’ AD, Littlepage is retiring this month. Kiser has already heard from Littlepage’s successor, Carla Williams, who starts at UVA on Monday.

In a text message, Williams “said she’d love to meet me,” Kiser said. “I’m looking forward to that and building a relationship with her.”

UVA is the only ACC school to have produced multiple Campbell Trophy winners. Only four other schools have had at least two winners: Florida (three), Ohio State (two), Tennessee (two) and Texas (two).

Three other Cavaliers have been finalists for the Campbell Trophy: Gary Cuozzo in 1962, Tiki Barber in 1996, and Stephen Phelan Jr. in 1997.

“I really want to see Virginia continue to put quality candidates into [the Campbell Trophy] program,” Burns said. “Our school is really so well-suited to that program.”

Kiser, who hopes to be a college athletics director one day, was one of 13 finalists for the Campbell Trophy this year. He’ll receive a $25,000 postgraduate scholarship for winning the award.

He’s a finalist for many awards this year, but the Campbell Trophy means the most to him, Kiser said Wednesday, because of “all that it encompasses … It takes everything into consideration, so for me to be chosen to win this award, it means everything.”

In New York, Kiser met many of his sport’s luminaries, including Peyton Manning, whose wife is a UVA alumna. This has been a whirlwind week for Kiser, who also spoke Wednesday at the NFF luncheon (which Burns attended), and it’s not over yet.

He’ll be recognized Thursday night in Atlanta during The Home Depot College Football Awards on ESPN at the College Football Hall of Fame. Kiser will return to that city next month to be honored during the national championship game for winning the 2017 Campbell Trophy.

“It’s been a great experience,” Kiser said. “I’m happy that I won this this award, I’m happy to be doing the things I’m doing, and I’m happy to be representing Virginia football the right way.”

For Burns, the NFF awards banquet was his first opportunity to have an extended conversation with Mendenhall, who has made academic success one of his program’s priorities.

“We really hit it off well,” Burns said. “We spent probably 15 to 20 minutes talking about the season and his philosophy and my philosophy.

“He wants to do it the right away, and I’m convinced that can happen at UVA.”

The Cavaliers, who finished 2-10 in 2016, are 6-6 this season and headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. UVA will meet Navy in the Military Bowl, Dec. 28 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Kiser’s family lives about 35 miles from Annapolis, and he’s thrilled to have the chance to end his illustrious college career on a winning note.

“It’s the first bowl game for myself and all the guys in my class that I came in,” Kiser said, “so for us to go out with a bang, it means everything. It’s a great start for our program and a great foundation for us moving forward.”

For his younger teammates, Kiser tries to set an example they can follow on and off the field.

“Every time I can I try to lead those guys in the right direction, whether it’s advice on school, advice on how to carry yourself off the field, advice on how to present yourself in the classroom,” Kiser said. “That’s really my job, to share what I’ve learned through these five years and give it to them so they’re better off than I was.”

He laughed. “I try. I can’t say that guys always listen to me, but hopefully they will, hopefully some things I tell them stick with them,” Kiser said.

“That’s my job as a captain and as a role model. The team’s in great hands. There’s a lot of great young leaders emerging. Guys like Chris Peace and Jordan Mack I’ve really taken under my wing throughout these years. I’m really proud of them, and I see them doing great things moving forward as well.”

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