AUBURN, Ala. -- Teammates swear that if you close your eyes and listen to Auburn wide receiver Kodi Burns imitate Gus Malzahn, you’d think it was the offensive coordinator himself.
Gene Chizik too. Burns can do all the coaches’ voices better than anyone on the team.
“I’ll do it in front of them, I really don’t care,” Burns said, displaying the brazenness of a senior. “(Malzahn) calls me ‘Funny Man’ as a joke, being sarcastic. I’m just that kind of person, so it really doesn’t matter, whoever’s watching.”
For a less-respected player, it might be a problem. Not for Burns, someone revered for how he handled losing the starting quarterback job to Chris Todd in August 2009, calling for an end to the team division that submarined Tommy Tuberville’s final season.
Chizik and the Tigers still refer to it as a seminal moment in the program’s turnaround.
“Kodi is the true definition of a team player,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. “The day he found out, he told them he’s going to do everything he could to help the team. He’s just a true Auburn man.”
When he signed with the Tigers out of Fort Smith, Ark., in 2007, he wanted to be the man. One of the top quarterback recruits in the country -- he played in the same high school All-American game as Cam Newton, now Auburn’s starting quarterback -- Burns figured to be Auburn’s successor to Brandon Cox.
“It’s where my heart was at,” Burns said. “I loved it, and that’s all I knew.”
By now, though, Auburn fans know how things unfolded. Burns, who had four coordinators during his career, never panned out at quarterback.
He and Todd shared duties during a forgettable 2008 season before Malzahn came on board in 2009, picking Todd as the starter as Burns switched positions.
“A lot of times things don’t work out the way you think they are, but you’ve just got to take the hand that you’re dealt,” he said.
Burns’ progress came slowly but surely at wide receiver, a position he hadn’t played.
“We used to kind of make fun of Kodi the way he used to catch the ball,” wide receiver Emory Blake said, mimicking a gator chomp. “It just took him a little bit because (quarterback) was his original position. He’s come a long way.”
Burns’ numbers aren’t eye-popping. He has 10 catches for 142 yards this year. and Newton has one more touchdown reception than him -- although Burns threw it to him.
But Burns’ biggest value isn’t in receptions, even though he made two crucial ones that helped the comeback against Alabama.
He is one of the best blockers on the team, an underrated part of Auburn’s rushing success.
“A lot of people don’t understand his role because he went from quarterback to wide receiver,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said.
“And I try to explain it to them: If you look at a rock wall, you see all the big stones but what most people don’t notice is those little stones hold those big stones together. Kodi’s one of those little stones that keeps the whole thing together.”
He is considered a leader by example, a tireless worker whose practice habits are admired and whose words are heeded.
“He’ll say something at the end of practice to the whole group about choices and decisions: ‘Everybody, be smart, be Auburn men,’” Taylor said.
“He’s one of the few guys that can talk, and both sides of the ball are going to respect him.”