While there has no doubt been no lack of criticism, or at least concern, over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ selection of underclassman Artie Burns in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the one thing that has never been questioned about the 21-year-old is his character. And Al Golden, his head coach at Miami, believes it is his character and makeup that will drive him to succeed.
Golden coached Burns throughout his tenure with the Hurricanes up until late October of the first-round draft pick’s final season there last year, during which he was fired after five seasons. And he said that it was for players such as Burns that he got into the coaching business in the first place.
“Artie was incredibly fun to coach”, he said. “He was a guy that listened, learned and improved. He developed a lot of trust and grew as a player and a person. I think the reason he went in the first round is he does have high character, he does have football intelligence, and he does have a strong work ethic”.
Believe it or not, Burns’ mother passed away after suffering a heart attack the same day that the Hurricanes dismissed Golden from his head coaching position, on October 25, the day after a dismal 58-0 loss for Miami.
So it was that Golden wasn’t able to be there for Burns, a young 20-year-old already with a background of overcoming adversity, in the capacity that he would have wished. But he was still there for the player he said he would do anything for, and he spoke at the funeral for Dana Smith, Burns’ mother.
A contemporary article about Smith’s death notes that it was just a week prior that she spoke to the Miami Herald about her son. “I am so happy and so proud of Artie”, she said. “Through all the adversity of not having a father here, he’s overcome it and has been a positive role model for his family”.
Surely Burns could never imagined just how heavily he would be tested to live up to his mother’s words in the coming days as she was taken away not just from him, but from her whole family, including his two younger siblings, for whom he would now have to care—though not on his own.
Burns’ teammate, Deon Bush, drafted in the fourth round by the Bears, also told the Herald that Smith was like a mother to the entire team. His teammates and the university as a whole helped raise money for him and his family.
But right now his focus is on football, set to make his NFL debut tomorrow night, and Golden believes all that he has been through, and more specifically the manner in which he has pushed through it, will be his aid.
“His upside when you combine his makeup and his off field character is limitless”, he said. “He is why I coach football. I would do anything for him. Pittsburgh is getting a great person, and a great player”. He also said that Burns “understood talent wasn’t enough”, and that he “was as responsive a player I have been around in all my years. He really let me coach him. He grew every day”.
His NFL debut will be the latest major step in his continued growth, tomorrow night.