By Matt Brooks
Thursday, July 15, 2010; 12:50 PM
At 6-foot-7, it doesn't take much for Rob Burns to stand out on a football field. Towering over his teammates, Stone Bridge's 230-pound senior defensive end is an imposing sight in the trenches and on tape.
Following his team's victory over Westfield in the Bulldogs' first game of the 2009 season, Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson sent out game film of Burns -- a first-year varsity starter -- and waited for the calls to roll in.
"As soon as 6-7 goes out and that film goes out with it, you know the calls are going to start coming in," Thompson said. "When you're that tall and you start playing in a starting role for us, I think that just solidified it. The interest came pretty quick."
By late spring, Burns was considering 10 Division I offers. Boston College, Duke, Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers, Stanford and Syracuse joined Virginia on the long list of suitors for the lanky pass rusher. Slowly, and with notable difficulty, Burns began narrowing his options. But with recruiting classes filling up, Burns finally pulled the trigger on July 1, committing to the Cavaliers and joining a class that includes a growing number of local talents.
"At the beginning of the process, it's awesome," Burns said. "But the more offers you have, the more decisions you have to make. And by the end, it's painful, because you're down to a couple schools that you really like and you don't want to tell anybody no."
Each program offered its own unique draw. Burns was impressed with the "big-time football" feel in State College, Pa., and said Boston College's cozy campus felt like a family. But in the end, Virginia provided the perfect balance of proximity and promise -- a program with a new coach, Mike London, that had the added appeal of being close to home.
"It just fit me the best," Burns said. "Coach London and his staff are going to turn the program around, and I want to be a part of that. It was hard, but I think I found the school that is best for me."
The decision took time, but when Burns heard a couple players with offers would be in Charlottesville on July 2, he realized his time was running short. That's when he made the call, becoming the 18th Cavalier commit (the class has since grown to 20) and the first Bulldog to commit to play football at U-Va.
Burns's choice continues an impressive trend of Bulldog players accepting offers from Atlantic Coast Conference programs. In the last 10 years, Stone Bridge has seen 18 players join the ACC including 2010 Buffalo Bills fifth-round draft pick Ed Wang, an offensive tackle from Virginia Tech.
"None of our guys have gone into the season without a decision, and I personally think that's the way to go," Thompson said. "As you wait longer and longer, classes start to fill up and you can lose some opportunities.
In his first season as a varsity starter, Burns shifted positions from tight end to interior lineman before settling in on the end where his combination of size and speed made him a brutal match up for opposing offensive lines. Burns finished the season with 62 tackles and a team-high eight sacks in helping lead the Bulldogs to a third consecutive AAA Northern Region Division 5 title and the state title game. Thompson believes Burns will only continue to improve as he fills out his frame and gets more game experience.
"He's going to be quite a player this year, but I think he's going to be a much better college player than he is a high school player," Thompson said. "He's just going to get bigger and faster and his body is going to catch up to his athleticism. I don't know where his ceiling is, but his best years are ahead."
Stone Bridge lost to defending state champions Phoebus, 15-10, in the AAA Division 5 final in Charlottesville in December. And before Burns takes the field as a Cavalier, he hopes to play one more game in Scott Stadium as a Bulldog.
"If everything goes according to plan we're going to have a heck of a season," Burns said. "We have a ton of guys coming back and we want to get back to that state championship. We want to take it to Phoebus again, but with a different result at the end of the game."
Notes: Burns joins a 2011 Cavaliers class that includes DeMatha's Kelby Johnson (OL) and Jordan Lomax (CB), H.D. Woodson tight end Darius Redman, St. Stephen's/St. Agnes linebacker Darius Lee, Good Counsel defensive tackle Vincent Croce and Damascus's Brandon Phelps.