AUBURN, Ala. – Kodi Burns' Auburn career has been an unusual journey.
He started eight games at quarterback his first two years then switched to wildcat quarterback and receiver after losing the starting job to Chris Todd before last season.
Now, Burns is mostly a blocking receiver though he has thrown one touchdown pass — to quarterback Cam Newton. Both were dual-threat prospects coming out of high school and even played together in an all-star game.
While Newton has rocketed to stardom, Burns has played a behind-the-scenes role. He's a strong perimeter blocker and a vocal leader, but has only 10 catches.
"It was really tough," Burns said of his position switch. "My whole life from elementary to junior high school to high school being the man, to college and being the man a little bit — and then all of a sudden transitioning to something else. If you're that kind of a big-time player, you always want the ball in tough situations.
"It was kind of hard sometimes last year to stand back and watch somebody else do it and just try to help out. At the same time, I like working at it. I've obviously gotten better and just try to contribute to the team any way I can."
He's helped the top-ranked Tigers reach the BCS title game, where they will play Oregon on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
He's done that mostly through blocking and leadership and even comic relief with what teammates and coaches call spot-on impressions that include coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. Newton, tailback Mike Dyer, receiver Darvin Adams have collected the headlines, not Burns. He seems OK with that.
"He's very unselfish," Newton said. "Behind any great team there are a lot of players on this team that don't get credit for what they do. Players like that get the job done behind the scenes. The not-so-good job description that they have goes unnoticed a lot. I'd be the first one to tell you that without those guys on our team, we would not have had so much success as we did have."
Burns has been the guy behind the guys. Perhaps the team's best perimeter blocker, he has only 10 catches for 142 yards this season with no touchdowns. He did throw a touchdown pass to Newton against Mississippi.
Burns had only two catches against Alabama in his biggest game this season, but both converted third-down situations on Auburn's first touchdown drive to start a comeback from a 24-0 deficit.
"He really kept the chains moving," receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. "When we needed a spark, he gave us one. The best thing about Kodi is, a lot of people don't understand his role because he went from quarterback to wide receiver. 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."
Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen calls Burns "the true definition of a team player."
It seemed unlikely that "team player" and "little stones" would define Burns coming out of the Arkansas high school ranks. He was a pretty highly touted dual-threat quarterback, who played with Newton in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl after his senior season and said he threw the ball 78 yards in the air.
Burns turned in erratic performances as a quarterback with the Tigers but did produce a few highlights.
He passed for 319 yards and three touchdowns against Ole Miss as a sophomore and ran for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns the following week against Tennessee-Martin. He completed his freshman year by running for the game-winning touchdown against Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
He spent last season mostly as a Wildcat quarterback, a role that was rendered largely unnecessary with Newton's running abilities.
Burns does possess another behind-the-scene attribute with his impressions.
"He's got the Malzahn, and you would think it was Gus if you just close your eyes and listen," Taylor said. "He's got coach Chizik, and I'm sure he's got me too."
In the SEC championship game, he made contact with a defender in the end zone when Adams caught a Hail Mary touchdown catch to end the first half.
"Darvin got all the credit, but Kodi really helped make that play by attacking that defensive back," Taylor said.
That's kind of been the story of Burns' season: Setting the stage for the stars.
Now, Burns is set to wrap up a career that has included four offensive coordinators, two head coaches and essentially three positions.
"It was weird how everything happened," Burns said. "I'm sure when recruits commit to Texas or Florida or Southern Cal, you expect those coaches to be there. I thought that was the kind of institution Auburn was, and it is but obviously things didn't work out with the staff. That's how things happen sometimes. You've just got to eat what you've got and roll with it. I'm playing wide receiver now and trying to make the best of it."