Aug. 29, 2012
Zohn Burden wears a size-16 sneaker.
Keita Malloy wears an 8½.
In a literal sense, Burden can fill Malloy's shoes and then some. Figuratively, Malloy has left Burden, who is now ODU's receivers coach, some awfully big shoes to fill as Old Dominion prepare to kick off its 2012 season this Saturday, hosting Duquesne at Foreman Field at 6 p.m.
When we last saw ODU's football team in action, the Monarchs were giving up a whopping 55 points to a Georgia Southern team that was never slowed by ODU's defense. The Eagles didn't punt the ball once during that 55-48 loss to Georgia Southern. Changes needed to be made. Within a week, the ax fell on defensive coordinator Andy Rondeau and assistant defensive coordinator Jarod Dodson. Rather than look outside the Monarchs' coaching staff for answers to the squad's issues on the defensive side of the ball, head coach Bobby Wilder handed the defensive coordinator position to Bill Dee, a long-time high-school coaching legend who won four state titles at Hampton's Phoebus High. Dee had been working with ODU's offensive line.
And Wilder moved Malloy from receivers coach to defensive backs coach. Malloy will also serve as assistant defensive coordinator. Those two moves have been major talking points for ODU's fan base during the offseason. But little has been said about the task left for Burden: filling those shoes of Malloy's.
Burden spent last season at the University of Richmond as the Spiders' receivers coach. It was a crash-and-burn season for the Spiders, beginning with the firing of head coach Latrell Scott two weeks before the campaign began. Richmond went 0-8 in Colonial Athletic Association play despite having a quarterback (Aaron Corp) and a receiver (Tre Gray) who were both good enough to sign with NFL teams. So when Wilder called Burden and asked if he'd like to rejoin the staff - Burden was part of ODU's original coaching staff, serving as a defensive backs coach - Burden jumped at the offer.
"I guess it's a great lesson to never burn your bridges," Burden said. "I had maintained my friendships and relationships with the coaches at ODU, even though I had gone to Richmond.
"There are a lot of guys on that Richmond staff from a year ago who are still out of a job. I got lucky."
Burden got more than just lucky. Not only was he able to return to ODU, he was given the luxury of coaching a stable of receivers that is second to none in the Football Championship Subdivision. But he's lucky in yet another way: He has ODU's best receiver, Nick Mayers, in his corner.
Mayers led the Monarchs in receiving a year ago while being named to All-CAA first team. He is the elder statesman of ODU's receiving corp. It's safe to say, at least among the receivers, that Mayers sets the bar on the field and the tone in the locker room. And a dozen years ago, a very young Nick Mayers spent Friday nights in the stands watching Zohn Burden excel as a receiver at Virginia Beach's Salem High.
"I've always been a Zohn Burden fan," Mayers said. "The guy could really play. I was watching him and trying to imitate him back then."
Burden took his talents to Virginia Military Institute, where he set numerous records and was chosen All-Big South Conference three times. One record that could very well stand the test of time at VMI is Burden's mark of catching at least one pass in 34 consecutive games. Mayers has let his fellow receivers know how he feels about Burden and hopes that they all buy in, even though Burden is undoubtedly coming into a situation that is challenging.
"There's nowhere to go but down," he laughed.
Well, not exactly. It is safe to assume that ODU's receiving corps could be a part of a record-setting season now that quarterback Taylor Heinicke is beginning the year at the controls. A year ago, Heinicke was holding a clipboard and expected to red-shirt his first year at ODU. But when Thomas DeMarco went down with an injury and the Monarchs turned to Heinicke, a new dimension for ODU football was discovered.
What had been a very solid passing game with DeMarco became the nation's most lethal FCS passing game under Heinicke, who took over five games in the season. And this year, Heinicke enters his sophomore campaign as the expected preseason All-CAA pick.
If this game really is about connections and having everyone on the same page, then it all seems to be fitting well for ODU, sometimes in the oddest and most unexpected ways. Heinicke and Mayers, believe it or not, share the same birthday, both born on March 15, the Ides of March.
So Heinicke is uniquely connected to Mayers, who is uniquely connected to Burden. And all are still connected to Malloy. Mayers added that the fact that Malloy is "just down the hall" has had as a calming effect on the receivers.
"We know he's still here. And if we have personal issues and life issues that he can help us with, he will," Mayers said. "But coach Malloy has also been really good about letting coach Burden do his thing."
Burden was a very quiet, behind-the-scenes coach during his first stint at ODU. He's been much more vocal the second time around and Mayers, for one, has noticed.
"Yes, he's made himself heard," Mayers said.
Burden said he feels fortunate to have landed back at ODU, for a number of reasons. He made the move to Richmond to expand his resume and to return to the side of the ball where he played. But in reality he never really left Hampton Roads: His girlfriend and daughter live here and he spent much of last season "commuting back and forth."
"I put a lot of miles on the car," he said. "I was headed down I-64 the moment we got out of the locker room on Saturday nights last year and then drove back to Richmond on Sundays. I guess, even though I left for a year, I never really left."
Here are Inside the Monarchy's Top 10 "Reasons to be excited about the season"
1. ODU football is sold out for a fourth straight year. The home office reports that If you don't have tickets, join the ODU Football Waiting Listand be the first to hear if game tickets become available. Plus, you cna improve your chances of getting season tickets for in 2013 by becoming a member of the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation.
2. The Monarchs are ranked sixth in the nations in the preseason.
3. There is a new GameDay App for Iphones, Ipads and Droids that provides live stats, social media feeds and up-to-minute fan information. Download it now (No, I mean really, download it now).
4. The ODU Sports Radio Network has expanded to Richmond. Central Virginia fans can tune in to EZ100.5 FM to hear Monarch football and men's basketball games, plus the coaches shows.
5. Don't forget that you can bring a radio headset to Foreman Field and hear our ESPN radio broadcasts (which includes yours truly) in and around S.B. Ballard Stadium. Tune to 94.5 FM on game day, beginning with the pre-game show one hour prior to kick off.
6. You can color coordinate your Gameday wardrobe with the Monarchs uniforms. Click here to see what color to wear for each of the six home games and purchase your ODU gear at the ODU bookstore.
7. You can have dinner every Thursday with Coach Wilder at the new Buffalo Wild Wings on Monticello Avenue in Norfolk. Join Coach Wilder and host Ted Alexander for the Bud Light Bobby Wilder Coach's Show at 7 , beginning Thursday, Sept. 6, or tune in to listen weekly at ESPN 94.1 FM.
8. Monarch football highlights and interviews can be seen on ODUTV, Channel 2642 on Cox On Demand. And you can watch the home games for all of ODU's sports teams on Monarch TV at www.odusports.com/allaccess.
9. A new show radio show kicks off this year on ESPN 94.1 FM every Saturday morning at 9 a.m., featuring up to date Monarch sports news and features.
10. Wanna go to the Towson and JMU games? Venture Tours, Inc is offering special day trips. Reserve your ride and ticket today by calling 757-494-1480.