Photo: Sardis High School senior Garrett Burns signed a football scholarship with Erskine College on April 4. Pictured, front row, from left: dad Josh Burns, Garrett, mom Jennifer Burns. Standing, from left: grandmother Annette Burns, brother Jackson Burns, grandfather Randy Burns. (Courtesy of Peyton Gibbs)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Garrett Burns most likely possesses a deeper app-reciation than so many of his peers about the opportunity to compete in high school sports, much less qualify for a college scholarship.
After being diagnosed with a form of epilepsy while in junior high, the Sardis High School senior went on to excel on the football field and in the classroom over the past four years. His determination to overcome adversity paid dividends on April 4 when he signed a letter of intent to play football at Erskine College in Due West, South Carolina.
An All-Etowah County and Class 5A, All-Region 7 selection last season after finishing with a team-high 22 receptions for 330 yards and four touchdowns, Burns noted that he might have fallen short of the above accomplishment if not for his one-year absence from the playing fields.
“[Sardis] hasn’t had many active players go through the college experience,” he said. “I definitely feel blessed to be one of those athletes chosen and I’m excited to get started.”
Burns discovered he suffered from epilepsy while was participating in a baseball tournament as a sixth grader.
“All of a sudden, I forgot where I was and what team I was playing for,” he said. “It was a lot like amnesia. It got to the point where I couldn’t walk up steps by myself due the large doses of seizure medication, I was prescribed to control my seizures. Plus, I missed so much school going to and from Children’s Hospital that I was constantly try-ing to catch up with my school-work.
“Trying to adjust to these new factors in my life definitely took a toll on me. After meeting with my new neurologist, he was able to adjust and change my medication, which then allowed to return to the field”.
Burns suffered his last seizure in eighth grade and was medically cleared prior to his freshman year.
“During my downtime away from sports, I am thankful I had the opportu-nity to work on growing in my faith and becoming stronger spiritually. It also allowed me to spend more quality time with my family.”
The experience taught Burns never to take anything for granted.
“When you’re a kid, you think that nothing can ever happen to you, and you learn that a lot can come at you pretty quickly. So I was fortunate to realize from an early age to play every game like you’ll never play again.
“Everybody’s going to have some adversity to fight through, and I’m blessed and thankful that it happened to me at such a young age, because it really puts things into perspective. If I’ve learned anything, it’s to have a backup plan in education, because you never know when sports will end.”
Burns has started at re-ceiver and defensive back since his sophomore year. In addition to playing receiver and defensive back this past season, Burns was the team’s kickoff and punt returner and played on the kickoff and punt coverage teams.
“The only time I left the field was at halftime,” he said with a laugh.
The 2022 Lions were 5-5 at the halfway point of the season before losing four of their last five games.
“I definitely feel that our record didn’t do us justice,” said Burns. “I felt that there were a couple of games that we could have won, but at the same time, we were a rebuilding program and had lot of games to make up for. We eventually got the right fit for our team, but un-fortunately it was late in the season before we really got into a rhythm.”
Division II Erskine, which went 2-9 this past season while competing in Conference Carolinas (soon to be joining the Gulf South Conference), reinstated its football program in 2021 after a 51-year hiatus.
“[Erskine] recruited me pretty actively in December, and I really liked the campus and coaching staff,” said Burns, who is considering majoring in business. “I also really like what the school stands for with their Chris-tian values. It’s a very good atmosphere to be around, and I think I can get there and produce pretty early on.”
Burns cited Chris Ste-phenson, who was Sardis head football coach his senior season, as a major influence on his decision to continue his career at the next level.
“Having no offers coming into my senior season, Coach Stephenson stayed calm and always reassured me that I will play at the next level all while walking me through the recruitment process, which really gave me back my confidence.”
Gene Hill coached Burns until his junior year.
“I was very fortunate to have two great head coaches along with their coaching staff,” said Burns. “Coach Hill saw potential in me early on, and I really liked him. He knew a lot about the game, and I really respected him as a coach. He’s definitely seen it all, he has had many years of experience for any situation we were facing.”
Burns said Hill encou-raged him to join the school’s track and field program, for which he com-petes in the 100-meter dash 200-meter dash, triple jump and 4×400-meter relay. He currently holds the school record in the 200-meter dash.
“[Hill] told us that since we were at a small school to play as many sports as we could so we wouldn’t regret it,” said Burns. “I had just dropped baseball and I wanted to fill the downtime, so I tried track, and I fell in love with it.”
Hill also coached Burns’ brother Jackson at Sardis and his dad Josh at Etowah.
“Garrett went from the point of wondering if he would ever be able to play again to what he’s accomplished is really remarkable,” said Hill. “A lot of times something like that gets into people’s heads, and rightfully so. For Garrett to overcome those obstacles and get to where he’s at, it’s a true success story.”
In light of Burns’ versa-tility and skill set, Hill sees him contributing to the Fly-ing Fleet early and often.
“Garrett’s being able to contribute on special teams should help him get on the field pretty soon. It’s going to give him an extra push.”
Burns’ mom Jennifer said that there were times during Garrett’s challenges in which he taught her and her husband Josh as much as much they taught him.
“As parents you always want to be able to protect your children from harm and to guide and teach them how to handle moments when they are faced with adversity leaded into adulthood,” she said. “I look back seven years ago in a hospital room, where Garrett was told there were two things that he would never be able to do with Epilepsy.
“The first was to play football and the second was to fly a plane. He could have so easily just given up right then, but he didn’t. Garrett set goals and worked towards achieving them, and that’s what make us the most proud of him. Fast forward to this year, and only God would have known Garrett would not only be playing football again but receiving a college scholarship.”