Ashburn, VA (Apr. 21, 2016) – The Stanford Cardinal football program has become a mainstay atop the college polls thanks in large part to dominant quarterback play. First it was Andrew Luck who propelled the program forward, followed by Northern Virginia’s own Kevin Hogan.
Hogan, a product of Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., earned the starting job during his freshman season and never relinquished it, leading the program to three Rose Bowls in the last four years, including a 45-16 rout of Iowa in the 2016 game.
With Hogan’s graduation, the door is open for the next Cardinal legend to take the helm, and that door just may open for another Northern Virginian.
Ryan Burns, a 2013 Stone Bridge graduate and current senior at Stanford, has positioned himself nicely to take charge under center, now in his final campaign with the Cardinal. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound pro-style prospect is known for his big arm strength and accuracy.
According to Burns, it was not only special seeing Hogan develop, but he was able to learn a lot from him as well.
“Kevin is one of my best friends now, sitting in the same room for three years we got to know each other pretty well,” Burns said. “Our offense is pretty tough, so I had days in practice that I just couldn’t get anything right and was getting down on myself, and he would always be there to tell me to shake it off and go on to the next play, which is really helping me right now, whether good or bad just move on.”
After operating the scout team the past three years, Burns saw extended action in the Spring Game on April 9, as he initially took some reps with the second team offense followed by the first team. He got off to a slow start, throwing an early interception, but righted the ship and made a strong case for the starting job.
He finished the exhibition 17-of-23 for 153 yards and two touchdowns, certainly numbers worthy of a starter. He credits the lessons he learned from Hogan with helping him turn around his performance.
“Hogan is definitely part of that, to throw an interception and then come back like nothing happened, I did a good job with that,” Burns said.
His main threat to earning the starting job is junior Keller Chryst, who is similarly a 6-foot-5, 237-pound pro-style quarterback. He put up almost identical numbers to Burns, completing 16-of-25 passes for 156 yards and two scores.
“We’re really good friends, it’s kind of tough going out and competing, I don’t really think of it as competing with him because he is such a good friend,” Burns said. “I just worry about myself and my own play, I don’t worry about what he does. If he is doing well that’s great, that means that our team is going to have a great quarterback.”
Beyond Hogan and Burns, the Cardinal program has had a rich lineage of Northern Virginians in recent years, as Briar Woods alum Alex Carter starred in the defensive secondary for three years before getting drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2015.
“I knew him [Carter] pretty well when I came out here,” Burns said, “it was cool having a guy I was pretty close with and have strong family ties with, our families are friends to this day. It was comforting having someone out here I could talk about home with.”
Dating back to his Stone Bridge days, Burns is no stranger to waiting his turn to earn playing time, as he spent two years as a Bulldog behind Brian Rody, who led the Bulldogs to Northern Region titles as a junior and senior and went on to play at Virginia Tech.
Burns then snagged the starting job as a junior and shined over his last two years under Coach Mickey Thompson.
As a senior with the Bulldogs in 2012, he set the school record with 2,530 passing yards, averaging over 21 yards per completion, and threw for 28 scores. That squad went through the regular season undefeated before eventually falling in the state championship game to Lake Taylor, ending the year at an impressive 14-1. Burns earned Washington Post First Team All-Met honors and was All-Northern Region.
“My favorite memory was senior year, just being with the boys, we were winning a lot, and almost came back in the state championship game, we only lost by six,” Burns said. “Leading that team with a couple other guys that I still talk to today like Jon Allen, it was a great group of guys.”
Allen was another key contributor to the 2012 state runner-up team, who is now a star on the defensive line with Alabama, the reigning National Champions. Allen and Burns had the opportunity to play together in the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
“It was awesome getting to play with him one last time, although hopefully this year, Stanford-Alabama, that would be cool,” said Burns about a potential meeting in the 2017 National Championship game.
Although he has had little game action since his arrival in Stanford, Calif., he remembers playing in the electric atmosphere in the Alamodome and can rely on that experience.
“It was a lot different than high school, I think that was the first eye-opening experience I had playing on the big stage and loud crowd noise, being in the middle of everything,” Burns said.
Not only can he rely on that experience, Burns says Coach Thompson played a major role in his development and continues to stay in touch.
“Mickey is the man,” Burns said, “probably one of the most respected men I know, just really knows when to be serious, when to be respected, when to be funny, just one of those guys that you truly love after a few years. He just texted me a few days ago after the Spring Game saying I did a good job, he’s that kind of guy, he really cares.”
Although Thompson is famous for his single-wing running attack, he did make adjustments to his scheme to utilize Burns’ rare talent to heave the ball around the gridiron.
“We had to change things up a little bit when I got there, he chose to at least, we did a little more of a spread passing game,” Burns said. “We still had the single-wing offense, which is what he is known for, which I think helped me with general toughness and my running game.”
Coming out of Ashburn, Burns was rated by ESPN as the No. 4 pocket passer in the nation and the No. 64 recruit overall. He had a slew of offers, but the Cardinal was always at the top of his list.
“Once Stanford came around and gave me the offer, I grew up in high school watching Andrew Luck and fell in love with it, I was kind of baffled how a school could be so respected academically, but also be in the spotlight football-wise. I felt like I couldn’t pass that up,” Burns said.
Even with playing time hard to come by, Burns’ lofty impression of the university has never altered. In moments in which he has doubted his football career, he remembers the incredible education he is receiving.
In terms of football, Burns remains confident in his physical abilities, and believes he can win the starting job if he continues to progress mentally and improves his consistency, especially with the complexity of the offensive scheme.
“What I’m really developing is the mental side of the game, it’s pretty complicated here at Stanford,” he said. “I’ve had a decent arm and good accuracy for a while, but for me going forward, I’m getting a lot better at the mental side and shaking bad plays.”
Whether Burns ultimately earns the starting job for the Cardinal or not in the fall, he has high expectations for the upcoming season. Having already been a part of two Rose Bowl games, he believes this years’ squad is national championship caliber.
Not only will the Cardinal have a big arm in either Burns or Chryst, but they will have the most versatile player in the country in Christian McCaffrey, the runner-up in last years’ Heisman Trophy voting to Alabama’s Derrick Henry.
“I think with the guys we have, we have a special opportunity,” Burns said. “We love going to Rose Bowls, but we all know we are capable of a little more.”
Following the Luck and Hogan era will be no easy task for whoever is under center, but Burns has been re-energized with the possibilities of the upcoming season.
“As a junior on scout team, that was pretty tough,” he said, “but I’ve taken a new approach to this season, it’s a new opportunity in my eyes and I feel like we are starting from the beginning with Hogan gone. So it’s been tough, but it’s gotten a lot better the past few weeks.”
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Written by Josh Apple
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