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January 3, 2012

The final stand for the Burdman

As Kris Burd walked through the concourse underneath the Georgia Dome, the clock quickly approaching the end of 2011, he held his right arm in front of him with his hand almost over his heart as if at the beginning of the Chick-fil-a Bowl instead of an hour or so after.

A collarbone injury ended not just the 6-foot-1, 200-pound receiver's night but his career at Virginia, one that is littered with personal achievements worthy of safely saying he's one of the best receivers to wear the orange and blue.

But it was the contribution he hoped he had made to UVa's football program, having gone through what he called the "dark days" to the present, as the focus of his time as a Cavalier.

"It being my last game and along with the rest of the seniors, we all wanted to go out on a good note," he said, a blue sling wrapped tight in a ball between his two hands. "I tried to play to the best of my ability and we just came up a little short."

Burd had what every player would love to have: A great game to end his career. When he was injured in the fourth quarter of UVa's 43-24 loss to Auburn, he had caught six passes for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

"It definitely wasn't the best feeling so I knew something was wrong," he added with a wry smile.

It shouldn't be overlooked that after catching 38 passes total in his first two seasons in Charlottesville, Burd had a tremendous junior season in 2010. He caught a team-high 58 passes for 799 yards and five of his six career touchdowns to that point.

He, along with then senior receiver Dontrelle Inman, was part of the first duo in school history to rack up 40 receptions in the same season.

He followed that up with a strong senior season that, even though he had found the end zone just once prior to Virginia's first bowl game since he was redshirting in 2007, will allow him to go down as one of the best in school history. In all, he caught a team-high 66 passes in his senior year for 913 yards this season for an 8-5 Wahoos squad no one thought would be in Atlanta for on New Year's Eve.

"Kris is a great young man," a hoarse Mike London said after the game. "And it was unfortunate that last fourth down was in his arm and his shoulder pad hit.

"We haven't been to a bowl game around since 07," Burd explained. "So that alone I feel like launches the team forward and behind Coach London and the atmosphere he's bringing and the community behind us, and how people are really buying in, I definitely feel like this is a great launching point for the program and I'm excited to see where it goes."

The numbers say that exciting was precisely what Burd was for Virginia. Not only did he go out with the first multi-touchdown game of his career but he became only the third Cavalier in school history to score more than one receiving touchdown in a bowl game.

Burd finished his career with 2,190 yards, good enough to place him at No. 4 all-time in school history, passing Germane Crowell (2,142) and Tyrone Davis (2,153) against Auburn.

With his contributions during the bowl game, Burd finished with 162 receptions, which puts him second only to Billy McMullen in the UVa record book.

Production came not just from making acrobatic catches and having good hands but also being consistent. The Matoaca native made at least one catch in 36 of the last 37 games for the Cavaliers. Burd has at least one reception in 28-consecutive games, dating back to Nov. 14, 2009. That is the second-longest streak of games in UVa history, passing Billy McMullen (2000-02). Patrick Jeffers (1993-95) is the only Cavalier to have a longer streak of games with at least one reception (31 games).

Burd had nine career 100-yard receiving game and five in his final season, which put him fourth in single-season records at UVa in both receptions and receiving yards.

Of course, where the program goes without a player like Burd or other members of his class is always bittersweet for guys who are moving on, especially for those at UVa who had to fight through some tough seasons to have anything remotely close to success.

"The game of football is all about ups and downs," Burd said. "We fell a little short but at the end of the day, I've loved the journey and I've loved the experience and I've loved my time here at UVa."

Flanked to his right by family, some holding signs meant to inspire No. 18 or wearing Chick-fil-a Bowl shirts with his picture on the front, Burd was the elder statesman forced to quickly transition from player on the team to observer of the situation.

"I can't say I personally put a stamp on the program but I feel like our senior class definitely turned things around," he said. "We've been through the dark years and we took it upon ourselves to turn things around and hopefully some of the young guys can take that and run with it."

That UVa had so much success early against Auburn might haunt Burd the way it surely will fans. The Cavaliers led early and had all of the momentum. But that, like many things, was fleeting.

"I feel like we were moving the ball pretty well but our ultimate goal on offense is to score more points than the other team and we came up short on that," Burd noted. "It was a great game, a great experience. I have a lot of memories with my teammates."

Picked to finish near the bottom of their division, let alone the conference, that the Wahoos made it to a bowl game at all was the goal Burd, along with fellow senior Chase Minnifield, talked about in the preseason media events. Throughout 2011, Virginia battled back and the wins came from a specific place, Burd said.

"We played with a chip on our shoulder all season," he added frankly.

And now, with his senior season complete and the end of his career front and center, his role as mentor to the team's younger receivers is finally a full-time job. Don't expect Burd to be a player that shirks away from being clear to his teammates on what is expected of them.

"I don't really leave it up to chance for them to misinterpret the message," he said when asked what lasting impression he left on fellow players like Darius Jennings and Dominique Terrell. "Definitely a work ethic. The offseason is really where the season is won. We had a great summer transition going into the season. Hopefully guys really take that and run with it.

"The wide receiver group, I let them know, the offense will go where you will take it. Next year is going to be your year and you have to step up and fill the shoes and make plays out there."

Without Burd, those players will have to step up a great deal in 2012, a year that holds as much opportunity as any in recent memory for UVa sports.

"Kris was plus-50 last year in catches and the same thing this year," London said. "And you're going to miss a guy like that that played through some good times and some bad times. He's got a bright future ahead of him and I wish him the best."

Said Burd, "You know, us fifth-year seniors, we've got a lot to look back on. We can say that we started a movement."

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