If there is one thing that makes Al Golden, the former University of Miami head coach, who is now the tight ends coach for the Detroit Lions, happy it’s that Artie Burns hasn’t changed since he was a teenager.
Sure, Burns has matured as a player and a person, but the Steelers first round draft pick is still the same person that Golden fell in love with when he was recruiting him to become a Miami Hurricane.
“He was quiet by nature, then and now,” said Golden. “He is a smiler. He is someone that listens and takes it all in. He is very family-oriented, has a great relationship with his grandparents, with his brothers, with his entire family. He has strong family values. He was a good kid then, and he still is that same good kid.”
Golden, who said the reason he got into coaching was to work with players like Burns, formed a strong bond with Burns during the recruiting process and it grew even stronger once Burns committed to Miami. As Golden said, he would do anything for him, a strong statement considering the number of players he has coached in his 23 years coaching in the college ranks.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the young man,” said Golden. “Artie was incredibly fun to coach. 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 does have a strong work ethic.
“He is tough. He understood talent wasn’t enough. The last two years at Miami he was as responsive a player I have been around in all my years. He really let me coach him. He grew every day. Having the support of his family, really helped him become the type of player he wanted to be.
“His upside when you combine his makeup and his off the field character is limitless. He is why I coach football. I would do anything for him. Pittsburgh is getting a great person, and a great player.”
Golden credits Burns strength, his will, his fight, to the adversity he has had to endure in life. His father, Artie Burns Sr., is currently serving a 25-year jail sentence, incarcerated since 2006 when Artie was still a kid. His initial reaction to it was negative, but he soon understood he was man of the house with two younger brothers, Thomas and Jordan, to look after, as well as be there for his mother, Dana Smith.
Check out photos of Steelers 2016 1st round draft pick, Artie Burns as he tours Pittsburgh for the first time.
“As it relates to his brothers, he knew he had to be the role model,” said Golden. “He speaks to his dad on the phone, but hasn’t seen him in a long time. He wants to establish for his brothers and instill in them that there are going to be challenges in life, but ultimately those challenges are choices. What direction do you want to go? I think he serves as a role model for them and for a lot of young people in South Florida to make good choices, embrace the challenge and ultimately overcome.”
Sadly, that wasn’t the only challenge he had to overcome. There was one much tougher, much more heartbreaking, down the road.
His mother, the woman that was always there for him through the good and the bad, died suddenly from a heart attack in Oct., 2015, right in the midst of the Hurricanes season and just after the team fired Golden as their head coach.
“His mom believed it takes a village to raise a child,” said Golden. “His mom was not a meddling parent. She was a supportive parent. She was engaged with anybody that touched her son. She wanted to get to know them. She wanted coaches or anybody involved to know what is important to her family. She protected him from a lot of the sensationalism that goes along with recruiting. She was always there for him.”
While Golden was no longer his coach in Burns’ darkest days, he was there for him, supported him, spoke at his mother’s funeral, and saw what he was truly made of.
“When you get in crisis, it reveals who you are and certainly the way he responded to crisis with his family and for his family was inspiring enough to leave an indelible mark,” said Golden. “He has strong faith, he has an incredible family network. He realizes how blessed he is, how his mom and family prepared him for this opportunity. As it related to Artie, I don’t know how anybody could handle a situation with more courage, faith, responsibility than he did. From that standpoint he is a hero to many.”
Burns played the week following his mother’s death, saying afterwards that ‘she was out there.’ But the following week, it hit him harder and he was in street clothes on the sideline.
“It was incredibly draining,” said Golden. “He gave all that he could that first week and played his heart out for his mom in an emotional game. No question it was emotional. It drained him with everything. But the daily regimen of football kept him on task. When football ended, it hit him all at once again. There was another moment in time where it hit him, the entire situation hit home and it really challenged him. But like everything else, he stepped up to the challenge.
“He is a strong kid. I am so proud of him.”