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Deer Lakes playmaker Burns hopes to come out hot

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 11:24 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Deer Lakes junior running back Hunter Burns had 557 yards combined rushing and receiving in 2013.

Hunter Burns' surname change while in elementary school led to more play-on-words opportunities for those who observed his athleticism.

The Deer Lakes student-athlete knew he just needed to give people highlights to discuss.

One year removed a breakout season with the Lancers, Burns, a junior, hopes this is the fall when observers in Deer Lakes and beyond begin to joke about him roasting defenders, catching fire or lighting someone up.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound returning two-way starter primarily will play running back and safety, but first-year coach Steve Sciullo plans to showcase Burns' versatility and ability to break off big gains.

“I watched him on film, and I knew he was a player we can build around,” Sciullo said of his first impression of Burns. “He's a playmaker. Sometimes people overlook that ability when they just pull out a stopwatch and only look at 40 times.”

Burns is the first to admit none of his physical attributes rank among the WPIAL elite. But he possessed enough talent and toughness to gain 408 yards on 81 carries and catch 15 passes for 149 yards.

“Speed definitely isn't at the top of my strengths,” he said. “I'm not the slowest guy in the world, but I'm also not the fastest.

“I'd probably say breaking tackles (is a strength). I'm not really a shifty guy, and I'm not too strong, but I usually can stay on my feet, and I'm pretty agile.

“I've always been a medium-sized guy, and I've always done fine at running back. I don't really see it as a disadvantage.”

To save Burns' body from too harsh of a weekly beating, Sciullo decided to move the junior to safety. Burns started at linebacker as a sophomore but actually spent most of his younger years in the secondary, so he considers his current position comfortable.

Burns changed his surname from his mother's, Wolbert, to his father's in fifth grade. And by the end of eighth grade, he had a new nickname among teammates, thanks to his highlights and his maturity as a leader. Fellow Lancers called him “Senior Captain Burns.”

Burns' leadership role among the Lancers is no joke this fall, though. He wants to steer Deer Lakes away from its 12-game losing streak and toward its second-ever playoff berth (the first came in 2010.) And he'll take on any responsibility — even punting — if it improves the team's outlook.

“I love to have people relying on me to do something,” he said. “I remember how much intensity and drive that (2010) team had to make the playoffs. There were a few guys that I looked up to when I was in eighth grade, and I think I can be like one of those guys.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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