Wednesday November 21, 2012

ADAM SAMROV

Sports Editor

HOOSICK, N.Y. -- With a determined, five-touchdown performance in the Class C state semifinal game against James I. O'Neill, Hoosick Falls Central School senior running back Brad Burns has led the Panthers to the promised land of New York state football: The Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

But he's not the first Burns to get there.

His brother Jon, a running back himself for the Panthers from 2003-06, played as a freshman during Hoosick Falls' first and, so far, only appearance in Syracuse.

"I went in 2003 and it was great seeing them play at such a high level," said Brad Burns, who was on the field as a ball boy in third grade. "Seeing my brother's friends there, it made me [playing] in the peewees to want to play there when we got older.

"He taught me to be tough."

Coach Ron Jones, whose Hoosick Falls squad faces Hornell in Saturday's Class C title game, said he sees a lot of similarities between the brothers in their running style.

"Jon was bigger, a bruiser. He had good agility and could finish," said Jones, who has coached at Hoosick Falls for more than a decade. "Brad's not as big, but he's a little faster and has better agility."

But the little brother can be tough too. On one play in the semifinal, Burns, on a carry to the right side, got a stiff-arm into an O'Neill defender to gain more yards after contact.


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It was one of an exhausting 41 carries in the Panthers' 43-21 win.

"With both of them, if you want to line up and get physical, game on, they're fine with that," Jones said. "The stiff-arm looks familiar. Brad didn't invent it, he saw big brother do it a few times too."

The Burns' middle brother, Jeremy, also played football for the Panthers.

"I'm sure that's where [Brad] learned the stiff-arm, probably reaching for the potatoes at the dinner table," Jones said. "His dad was a linebacker on Ken Baker's first undefeated team, too.

"There's good genetics there but I don't know if Brad gets the credit for how hard he's worked. In school they see it, but outside, they just think he was born a good athlete."

In addition to the family brand of hard-nosed running, Brad said he focused on developing more of a speed element this season. He has also shown a knack for the acrobatic, often hurdling would-be tacklers who try to go low to wrap up his legs.

"[Jon] wasn't going to outrun a guy, he'd lower the shoulder right through them," Brad said. "I have some of that too, but this year I'm using my speed more. Instead of running into people, I try to use speed to get 10 or 15 extra yards."

He has put that new skill to good use.

Burns has had one of the top statistical seasons in Section II history, rushing for 1,984 yards and 35 touchdowns in 12 games, an average of more than 165 yards per game and 9.4 yards per carry. His season yardage total is 11th all-time in Section II.

"Both [brothers] split carries until their senior year," Jones said. "They were both in the same situation, having another good athlete with them. With Brad, it was Tanner Williams. Tanner's a year older, so now Brad has all the carries."

During a game against Tamarac this year, Burns broke his brother's school rushing record. Jon Burns rushed for 3,218 yards in his four years with the Panthers -- his younger brother is now over 4,000 and counting.

"Stats aren't a big thing, but coming into the season, that was one of my goals," Burns said. "He was happy it was me and not someone else, that it stayed in the family. It's great to have me and him at the top of the list."

Jones said he spoke to Jon the night Brad broke the school record.

"He seemed happy for him," Jones said. "If anyone [is going to] break it, how about your little brother? I got the sense that Jon was proud of him."

With all the statistical records broken, now Burns gets a chance to finish what his brother started -- getting to the Dome and winning a championship.

Burns said on Tuesday making the school's second appearance in the state final hasn't sunk in just yet.

"We've wanted to be here for so long, I don't think I've grasped it yet," Burns said. "Until we get there, I don't know what it's going to feel like. Just being in the Dome will feel great, we want to be the first male state champions [at Hoosick Falls].

"It would be huge to be a part of bringing a title back, we've had so many good athletes not do it. If we could be the first ones, that'd be huge, so the past alumni see how hard we've worked to achieve this."