Oct. 26, 2001
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech junior tailback Joe Burns, the ACC leader in carries, is the epitome of a workhorse back, especially in the game’s final frame.
Burns has gained 193 of his team-best 629 rushing yards in fourth quarter this season. He’s also gotten 44 of his 158 carries at crunch time. These numbers are even more impressive when you factor in that Burns sat out the final period in lopsided victories over The Citadel, Navy and Duke. Essentially, he’s averaging 11 carries and 39.5 yards per fourth quarter played.
This fact was particularly evident in Tech’s 13-7 win over Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic. Burns gained 71 of his 113 yards on the Jackets’ final clock-consuming drive.
Burns relishes the fact that he knows, the defense knows, even the popcorn vendors know he’s getting the ball.
“That just make you want to run harder,” says Burns, a native of Thomasville, Ga. “You know everyone in the stadium knows that you are going to get the ball. I just try to hit in there as hard as I can and break tackles. By then, the defense, if I’ve been running at them the whole game, starts arm tackling because they’re getting tired of hitting me. So that benefits me. They’re just trying to grab you with their arms. They don’t want to step up and hit you in the hole like they probably were in the first quarter. By that time, I’m going full speed just knowing that they’re going to get out of the way and they’re not going to step there like they were. So that motivates me to hit harder, knowing that I’m going to get some yards.”
This role may not be flashy or glamorous, but it is one that Burns welcomes.
“People probably look over me but that’s all good,” adds Burns. “As long as my teammates know they can count on me whenever they need me, that’s what matters. Everybody wants to be in that situation where the team is depending on you to finish the game off. Ever since I was a kid it has been my dream to be that person. I have worked hard enough here to earn that role, and I’m enjoying it.”
Being a tailback, Burns is also called upon to do his fair share of blocking, another aspect of the grunt work he does for the Jackets.
“Blocking is not so much technique,” Burns says. “Anybody can block. You just have to want to do it. It comes from within. I just take pride in it when I’m called on to do it.”
Burns should also take pride in the numbers he is posting here at Tech. This season, he has joined the 2,000-yard club. The alumnus of Thomas County Central has 2,098 career rushing yards to rank sixth all-time. He has a chance to move into fourth place by the end of this season, needing only 178 yards to pass David Sims and 269 to jump C.J. Williams.
Burns currently ranks second in career rushing touchdowns with 25. He trails Robert Lavette who amassed 45 scores on the ground from 1981-84. Burns’ 28 overall touchdowns tie him for second on the all-time list with Jerry Mays. Lavette also leads this list with 46 scores.
Burns has also posted four 100-yard games this season, giving him nine for his career. He opened the season by running for 113 yards on 34 carries and one score in the win over Syracuse. Against Clemson, he tallied 126 yards on 30 carries, while posting a pair of scores. In the win over Duke, Burns racked up 122 yards and two touchdowns. He added 114 yards on 34 carries in the NC State win. Burns has eclipsed the century mark in three of the last four games.
He is aware of where he ranks in Tech’s record books, but the staggering numbers are a surprise to Burns.
“I never thought I’d come close to where I am now,” says Burns. “But the good thing about it is I have another year, so I am just going to keep working and by the time I leave hopefully I’m going to be first in a couple of categories.”