It’s been 22 years since Tom Burns became the fourth recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy, but the former Virginia Cavalier still credits football for getting him to where he is today.
“You really want to try to push yourself to push the limits,” Burns said. “Just the chance to play college football is amazing, but really, that’s a four-year high where you get to have your teammates and brothers and fellowship. But the key function that football allows you to have is the full scholarship. You’re talking about a quarter of a million dollars worth of educational benefit that you really want to make the most of.”
Burns, 43, certainly did just that, as he got a degree in nuclear engineering.
Now, Burns is living in Aiken, SC, where he serves as the Vice President, Deputy Project Manager and Director of Engineering at Parson Government Services, an engineering, construction, technical and management services firm.
Virginia remains a big part of Burns’ life. He makes it back to Charlottesville, Va., a few times each year, as he attends two to three football games each season in addition to serving on a trustees board for a scholarship.
It’s a place that Burns holds dear to his heart, and a lot of that feeling comes from the role Virginia played in getting Burns to where he is today.
“I had a lot of schools that were recruiting me that weren’t particularly encouraging that I wanted to go into nuclear engineering,” Burns recalled. “Even in high school, I knew I had an interest in nuclear engineering. I like physics. I like building things. It was a nice fit, and for whatever reason, I knew that was what wanted I wanted to do.
“When I got to Virginia, they just said, ‘We don’t have a lot of people do it, but more power to you. We hope you’re successful.’ I was very blessed to have the support of the coaching staff.”
Admittedly, Burns knows seeing a college football player that’s majoring in nuclear engineering is very rare, but it’s something that made him the man he is today.
“I would say that 60-70 percent of my professional success now has to do with what I learned and experienced in football, rather than what I learned in the academic experiences,” Burns said. “You certainly have to have the right ticket to play in a major engineering organization and the background, but the type of leadership skills, hard-nosed discipline, people skills, confrontational skills. Those are the types of things that were learned through my experiences with football and seem to be the things that I draw on more as an executive.”
It’s obvious what football did for Burns, but football played a bigger role in Burns’ life as it pertains to time management.
Playing college football certainly takes enough time out of a student athlete’s day as it is, but when you add a strenuous course load that comes with nuclear engineering, time can definitely become an issue.
“You have to be able to separate what’s important and what’s not and delegate and manage time well,” Burns said. “The experience I had in college with a full course of engineering studies as well as your demands with your training, practice and film time meant that you had to become efficient with time management at a very early age. That was an extremely valuable talent I was able to acquire during that time.”
It’s easy to see how successful Burns has been during his professional career, and when you look at what he was able to do back in his playing days, it’s no surprise. The Campbell Trophy proved that many years ago.
And if Burns serves as an example for student athletes just starting their careers, it might be wise for football players to take advantage of their playing days. Who knows, maybe they’ll end up being as successful as Burns one day.