Artie Burns was the first cornerback selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Round 1 of the NFL Draft since 1997, when the team chose Chad Scott. While notable, that isn’t the only thing that stands out about about Burns, who played his college ball at the University of Miami. The native of Miami was also a one of the world’s top junior track stars in high school, being twice named a track and field All-American by USA Today. He’s broken numerous 110-meter hurdling records and, in 2012, he was ranked fifth in the world and was the top World Junior hurdler in the United States.
He continued his record-breaking ways on the track in college, shattering a 38-year old American record in the indoor 60-meter hurdles in 2014 with a time of 7.68 seconds, all the while also playing football. Burns was also a defensive back for Miami Northwestern High School, given a four-star rating by Rivals.com who ranked him the 15th-best defensive back in the nation. In high school, he was initially a safety, with 80 tackles (10 for a loss) and 12 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles and 1 interception as a junior. He converted to cornerback, and he became a starter in his second season at Miami. Through three years, the cornerback had 93 combined tackles (65 solo), 14 pass breakups and seven interceptions (six in 2015). Now, Burns is a Steeler, selected 25th-overall on Day 1 and has the chance to be a starter in his rookie season.
But Burns’ athletic pedigree only tells part of the story. There’s always much talk about the players who have overcome significant adversity on their path to the NFL and Burns is certainly among them. His father, Artie Burns Sr., is 10 years into a 25-year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking. His mother, Dana Smith, passed away from a heart attack in October 2015. Though Burns just turned 21 years old over the weekend, he’s responsible for his two younger brothers, whom Burns took custody of when his mother died, as well as a 19-month old son named A.J.
Success in the NFL is not just something Burns needs or wants for himself—the responsibility of taking care of his family will also be a major motivator. He said so himself when he declared he was leaving college and skipping his senior season at Miami to enter the 2016 draft. Burns’ statement read, “Due to my mom’s sudden passing and my father being incarcerated, I now have custody of my two younger brothers and my son to raise. It is my responsibility to be the financial supporter my family needs to continue our day-to-day lives. Also, playing in the National Football League has always been a dream of mine and I believe the time to pursue this dream is now. I feel I am mentally and physically ready. Now that the time has come for me to take the next step in my journey, I will come back to complete my degree from this prestigious university.”
There are NFL players 10 years older than Burns who don’t have the same weight of responsibility hanging on their shoulders. This additional motivation should factor into the kind of effort and work ethic we see from Burns this summer in training camp, through the preseason and for the duration of his professional career. Though it may not be an indicator of the quality of a career Burns has with the Steelers or the NFL in general, that he has something tangible to fight for and people who rely on him to win to that fight means that he has a catalyst to make the most of his time in the league. With his proven athletic talent another bonus, the Steelers have found a player who not only meets their roster needs but also their standards, from a character perspective.