One of Georgia's top prospects when he signed with Auburn out of Macon County High in Montezuma, Ga., Burnam didn't qualify as a freshman in 2002 and instead played on the scout team. After impressing the coaches early, Burnam went down with a knee injury. Again that was the case in 2003 as a sophomore and he hurt his knee and spent the better part of the year in rehab.
Just getting back into form, Burnam's final step towards getting full recovered may have come against the Wildcats in Auburn's 42-10 victory. Already a key part of the Tigers' special teams, Burnam got into the game on defense and was johnny on the spot, picking up a fumble and returning it for a score to seal the victory. Teammate Karibi Dede says it couldn't have happened to a more deserving player.
"I was just so happy for him," Dede says. "Out of all the guys on the team he's one of my best buddies. I just loved it. I always mess with him and I said ‘what happened to your endzone dance? You haven't been in the endzone since high school'. I was so happy for him. I was excited.
"He deserves it as much as anybody," he adds. "He plays hard and works hard everyday in practice. He's had two knee surgeries, but fought through it and came back. He never gets down on himself mentally. He's always positive and he always plays hard."
Burnam picks up a fumble and runs it for a touchdown.
The classic middle linebacker, Burnam is a 6-2, 236-pounder with good speed and a head for football. A coach on the field with good leadership qualities, Burnam says that he was just happy to finally contribute on defense and do something to help the team win. He's just another example of one of the team players on this year's Auburn squad, although he says he felt like doing a little celebrating after the score.
"It was real exciting, real exciting," Burnam says. "I started to do a celebration dance, but I was like ‘is it really worth that 15 yards?' It was real exciting. We put more points on the board. It added something for our defense. Even though we were leading the game it showed that we're not a joke. A lot of people don't believe Auburn is what Auburn is right now. It felt real good as a team to put some points on the board."
"I thought about it, but at the same time it wasn't worth the penalty," Burnam said. "I just turned around and celebrated with my teammates because that was the thing to do. If it wasn't for them I wouldn't have made the play."
All day long the Auburn defense made plays, particularly in the Kentucky backfield. The Tigers accumulated eight sacks against the Wildcats and held them to just 110 yards of total offense. Dede says that he didn't have any idea the day had gone so well for the defense, especially after giving up an eight yard drive for a touchdown in the second quarter.
"We don't really look at the numbers, we just go out and play," Dede says. "Each time we go out on the field we want to go three and out and give the offense the ball back. Honestly I didn't know we held them to that yardage. There was one drive in particularly that started around the 30 so I didn't think we held them down that much."
Much of the damage defensively was done by young players such as Quentin Groves, Stanley McClover, Marquies Gunn and Christopher Browder up front, but Burnam and fellow inexperienced linebacker Montavian Collier also got in the action. Dede says that getting those guys in the game is only going to help Auburn's defense down the road.
"It was good seeing Montavian Collier out there," Dede says. "He made some plays. He made a big hit. It's good because I'm a sophomore and just knowing that those guys are getting ready and that in the future we're all going to be playing together. It's good to see them doing well."
The future certainly looks bright for the Auburn defense with just five seniors seeing significant playing time and two more as back-ups. If Burnam continues to improve, both physically and mentally, from his injury then Auburn could have a senior playing a big role next season for a defense that should only get better with age.
"It comes with confidence," Burnam says of his rehab. "The more I do, the more reps I get, the more I have to cut this way or that way, I start to gain confidence. I feel like I'm getting my speed back and getting my eyes back. I'm just trying to take it day to day. Take the things Coach Joe Whitt teaches and just go from there."