Path to Nationals is a five-part feature series profiling the five student-athletes who will represent the University of Miami track and field program at the 2014 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Track and Field Championships.
Being a multi-sport athlete is difficult and excelling in two sports is almost impossible. But if you are as athletically gifted as Miami's Artie Burns, you make it look easy.
The freshman, who contributed as a cornerback for Miami's football team in the fall, has been a superstar on the track this spring. Burns sped past the competition at the ACC Indoor Championships, claiming the 60m HH title in his first collegiate season.
"It's been a lot of hard work coming straight from football," Burns said. "With football we have a certain amount of time to get ready for the first game. With track I have been catching up a little bit. It's been intense, but it's been good, too."
Burns is far from the first football player turned track star in Miami history. Fourteen track school records are held by Hurricane football players and Miami's track record book is littered with football stars like Randal Hill, Bennie Blades, Horace Copeland, Ed Reed, Santana Moss and Vince Wilfork. Burns, who currently ranks second in school history in the 60m hurdles, is proud to join such elite company.
"It means a lot to continue the tradition and be put in the same category as those guys," Burns said. "Not everyone has been able to do it, so it feels good to help in both sports."
Amy Deem, Miami's director of track and field/cross country and the head coach for Team USA in the 2012 Olympics, has worked with elite track athletes for nearly 25 years. The veteran track coach believes Burns is as athletically gifted as anyone she has encountered in the sport.
"He's an extremely great athlete and anybody that's watched him grow up knows that," Deem said. "He's just a great athlete who loves track and football and he's going to be successful because he has a passion for both."
Burns admits the transition from football to track has not been easy this season, especially since his position on the football field requires him to performs movements that are the opposite of what he needs to do in the hurdles.
"At corner we have to stay low and almost sit down where in the hurdles you want to stay tall," Burns said. "That's been the biggest adjustment for me since coming over from football to track. It's very challenging because I am so used to sitting down in my back pedal."
Despite working to perfect his technique all season, Burns has been one of the top hurdlers in the country. Deem believes he will reach a new level of success once he masters the adjustments to his hurdling.
"The biggest thing is that he's got some technical changes in the hurdles that need to be made," Deem said. "Because we don't have him in the fall and because we got him after the bowl game, it makes it a little more difficult to make those changes. But I think when he figures out some things that we're still working on, he's another one that can make a big jump."
Burns has been working with Deem for just a few months, but the talented hurdler feels he has benefitted immensely from training with her.
"She's brought out a lot from me," Burns said. "She knows what she is talking about. I believe in what she tells me. We have been working a lot on my technical stuff and it's helped. I trust what she tells me."
The trust between coach and student-athlete has been crucial in Burns' success this year.
Already an established star hurdler in high school, Burns could have continued running the way he used to. But the gifted freshman heeded his coach's advice and has worked to clean up his mechanics in the hurdles. The results of that work have been an ACC title and an American Junior record.
Burns broke a 38-year-old American Junior record, set by Washington's Robert Gaines in 1976 and matched by South Carolina's Jason Richardson in 2005. It took the Miami native just 7.68 seconds to blaze down the track at the Don Kirby Elite Invitational and into the record books, besting Gaines and Richardson's time of 7.70 by two-tenths of a second.
"I couldn't have imagined it," Burns said of snapping the American Junior record. "I never would have thought I would be running this fast already."
This weekend, Burns returns to the site of his record-setting run. Only this time he will be up against the top hurdlers in the country. Burns, who's time ranks ninth in the country, believes his familiarity with the track in Albuquerque will help him as he strives for an NCAA championship to add to his collection of titles.
"Being there before, I know how the track is and some of my opponents," Burns said. "I will know what to look for when I get to my race. I also like to run better over there because you feel lighter and faster because of the altitude."
Deem, who is one of the top hurdles coaches in the world, believes Burns is capable of a standout performance at the NCAA Indoor Championships. She knows Burns will be up against the toughest competition he has faced all season, but he will be prepared to handle himself against the nation's best hurdlers.
"I've addressed with Artie some of the things I think he needs to work on," Deem said. "He got off the field kind of early at ACCs and that's not going to be the case at nationals. We've talked about handling that.
"He ran with two of the best when we were in New Mexico and he handled it very well," Deem said. "If he keeps that same approach he will be fine. He likes the track and he's comfortable on that track. I think it's important to take that same approach and not make it bigger than it is."
Should he win in Albuquerque, N.M., this weekend, Burns would be Miami's first male national champion since Davian Clarke in 1998. He would also be the first football player in school history to earn a track national championship.
"I want to compete to the fullest and do the best I can against the best competition and hopefully come back with a victory," Burns said.
A win this weekend would also get Burns halfway towards completing one of his career goals as a Hurricane: winning a national championship in track and football.
"It would be great to do that before I'm done here," Burns said. "I don't know too many people that could say they experienced that."