When Covina High School won its last championship in 1995, beating Lompoc 23-21 for the CIF Southern Section Division 7 football title, then coach Dick Sheehan had a simple reason why the Colts won and ran the table that year to finish 14-0.
“We had Nin Burns on the team and they didn’t,” Sheehan said.
Burns was the Division 7 player of the year that season and earned a scholarship to the University of Utah.
After 22 years, Covina (11-2) returns to the championship on Friday against Katella (12-1) at Covina District Field for the Division 11 title, and guess who’s leading the way?
Burns’ son, Nin Burns II, the sophomore quarterback who has thrown for 2,440 yards and 30 touchdowns.
When Covina won its last championship in 1995, it also was at Covina District Field.
“It’s kind of cool I guess,” Burns II said.
Burns II isn’t the only sibling on the team. His younger brother, Damon Burns, is a freshman receiver/defensive back that has been called to varsity for the playoffs, and his time will come.
Burns II, however, has been the difference maker for the Colts all season, and he’s managed to take it up a notch in the playoffs, particularly the last two games.
He threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown in a quarterfinal win over Westminster, and he was at it again in the semifinals, throwing for 250 yards and two touchdowns in a wild 57-56 overtime victory over Culver City.
He’s so young and so experienced that Covina coach Joe Brown just shakes his head sometimes.
“The kid just understands football,” Brown said of Burns II. “His football IQ is phenomenal and he wants to make every play, every time. It’s hard for him to just throw the ball away because he’s super competitive.
“One of the things I told him at the beginning of the year is that we’re really young. We have a couple sophomore receivers and a sophomore in the backfield (Erik Cuellar) and at times Nin gets frustrated. I just told him, not everyone is at your level yet, that’s your job to bring them to your level, and he’s done a great job of that.”
Sheehan has kept tabs on the Colts this season and see’s the similarity between father and son. They were different players. Burns, the dad, was a do-it-all receiver that returned punts, kickoffs and was a monster on both sides of the ball.
“The similarities are how elusive both of them are,” Sheehan said. “And they both seem to have that extra gear that when people think they’re closing in they are able to kick it into a higher gear and separate themselves from others.”
Colts assistant coach Kevin Glaspy is the only person on the Colts staff who was an assistant with Sheehan in 1995 and remembers how special dad was.
“He was so electrifying,” Glaspy said of Burns. “His game-breaking ability was phenomenal. People held their breath every time he touched the ball. Sometimes he only touched it five times a game, and those touches would be a punt return, kick return or an interception for a touchdown. He had that ability to change a game all by himself.”
Glaspy remembers Burns II on the freshman team last year. He was later called in at the end of the season because the Colts starting quarterback was injured and he led the Colts to a playoff victory.
What Glaspy remembers is what Brown also shared, that he understood the game far beyond his years. That, along with his ability is what makes him so dangerous.
“He was one of the smartest freshman players I’ve ever seen and to be a quarterback, that’s special.” Glaspy said. “He had some games where he’s calling his own audibles and making plays for touchdowns. He could call a game all by himself. It’s amazing he’s only a sophomore and doing what he’s doing.”
And if he can do it one more time he’ll have what his dad earned two decades ago, a championship ring.