ATLANTA – The road back from a season-ending injury is a long one, and working to return to the field can be a trying experience for any athlete, especially a player that is the focal point of a team’s offensive attack. For Georgia Tech sophomore tailback Joe Burns, that road to recovery is one that he has exited to return to the Yellow Jacket backfield.
After leading Tech in rushing yardage as a true freshman in 1998, the Thomasville, Ga., native, appeared poised to continue his strong play during the 1999 season. He had accounted for 116 all-purpose yards in the season-opener against Navy and 67 more through much of the Jackets’ second game against Florida State. That was until late in the game with the Seminoles, when Burns suffered a broken ankle and was forced to miss the remainder of the year recovering from the injury.
Burns, whose Yellow Jackets will face North Carolina on Saturday in a regionally televised game (ABC) at 3:30, recalls that his recovery proved to be a difficult time for him.
“It was a depressing time for me,” said Burns. “I’m just glad that it’s all over with, and I’m beginning to feel myself getting back to where I used to be.”
Tech continued on and finished the 1999 season with an 8-4 record and a trip to the Toyota Gator Bowl, where it fell to Miami. Burns did not stay on campus for the remainder of the season, but instead withdrew from school and returned home to rehabilitate his injured ankle. In that time he admits that he did not see many of the Yellow Jackets’ remaining games last season.
“I couldn’t watch the games on TV last year,” recalls Burns. “It just hurt too much to watch. I may have watched one game after I got hurt. I supported the team and hoped that they won, but it pained me to sit in front of the TV and watch a whole game. I would usually just watch ESPN to see if they had won.”
By returning home, Burns did not have a great deal of free time, as rehab filled most of his days, but he found a support from his family to help him get through the process.
“My mom and my family really helped me get through recovering from the injury,” recalls Burns. “Being around my family helped the situation a lot. Having their support was a big factor in getting me back to where I was before.”
After leaving school during the fall semester, Burns returned in the spring to resume his Tech career and with spring practice, returned to the football field for the first time since his injury. He admits that the most difficult part of returning to football was the mental side of the game, not so much regaining the physical strength that he had lost.
“The biggest thing for me in getting back into playing shape was the mental part,” said Burns. “I just needed to go out there and not think about the fact that I had just had two surgeries and had to pretend that nothing had ever happened. I couldn’t go out and be timid or afraid, but had to go out and go full speed. I had also lost a lot of strength because I hadn’t been able to do anything for such a long time, and I had to work extra hard in the weight room to get my strength back up to where it had been.”
Although Burns admits that he was a little timid entering spring practice, that fear was all but gone when the regular season began in early September. Burns proved that he was back in Tech’s 30-23 loss at NC State last Thursday, as he turned in the second-best rushing performance of his career with 100 yards on 21 carries, and he currently leads the team with 257 yards through four games in 2000.
While not a vocal leader in the locker room, Burns feels that by going out and giving his best every day, he can be a big help to the team each time he steps on the field.
“I just try and go out and play tough every day, at practice and in games,” said Burns. “I really feel that my instincts have come back now and I’m able to rely on those again. I really like the chemistry on this year’s team, and it feels good to be back playing football at Georgia Tech.”
With Joe Burns helping to lead the ground attack for the remainder of the year, the Yellow Jackets can look to their quiet leader for all the inspiration they need as they face the schedule ahead in the 2000 season.