On Oregon, Gatewood and Kodi Burns

Lyn Scarbrough

September 03, 2019 at 1:04 pm.

“One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.” – Henry Ward Beecher, American clergyman, social reformer, speaker

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau, American essayist, poet, philosopher


Most important life lessons are learned out of the spotlight, from little known people in day-to-day life.

Others are learned on the national stage in front of millions.

One of those times was the last Saturday night of August in Dallas.

These lessons started 10 years ago.

Kodi Burns was not your average high school quarterback. First-team all-state in Arkansas, he was rated 4-stars, the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country. He signed with Auburn and backed up Brandon Cox and Chris Todd in 2007 and 2008. Many thought he might take the offensive controls in 2009 or 2010, but in his senior season, that job went to Cam Newton, a special player, who led the Tigers to an undefeated season and went on to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s best player. Kodi Burns had become a wide receiver.

In the National Championship Game, Auburn’s first-ever match-up with Oregon, the Tigers won, 22-19. The first touchdown was a pass – 35 yards from Newton to Burns. In a three-point game, a touchdown provides the winning margin. Kodi Burns scored that touchdown.

There were a lot of words you could use – selflessness, dedication, versatility, loyalty. Whatever the word, that was Kodi Burns. He stayed the course … and made a difference.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Auburn’s second game ever against Oregon was Saturday night in Dallas. Burns was on the Auburn staff as co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.

After an 8-5 season in 2018, many fans had figured Joey Gatewood would be the starer at quarterback against the Ducks.

Like Burns, Gatewood wasn’t your average high school quarterback. Rated a 4-star prospect, he was ranked the No. 1 athlete nationally by 247Sports and started in the Under Armour All-American Game after his senior season. He signed with Auburn in 2017, redshirted and backed up Jarrett Stidham in the Music City Bowl massacre of Purdue.

He wanted to be the season starter.

But the job went to Bo Nix, a special player, rated a 5-star prospect, the No. 1 dual threat quarterback in the country according to 247Sports. The state of Alabama’s all-time career leader in passing yards and touchdown responsibility, he was Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year.

Head coach Gus Malzahn told Gatewood that he would still make a difference.

Five minutes into the fourth quarter on Saturday night in Dallas, the Tigers trailed 21-13 and to have any realistic chance at a come-from-behind win, they had to score a touchdown. With the ball on the Oregon 1-yard line, Auburn turned to Gatewood. A 6-5 Cam Newton look-alike in uniform, Gatewood took the snap and leaped into the end zone, a la Newton, for the score.

Auburn went on to win, 27-21, on a late 26-yard pass from Nix to Seth Williams. In a six-point game, a touchdown provides the winning margin. Joey Gatewood scored that touchdown.

There was a similar situation 50 years ago, way back in 1969.

Tommy Traylor, a two-time All-State quarterback from Lee High School in Montgomery, Ala., had backed up All-SEC quarterback Loran Carter at Auburn in 1968 on the team that defeated three nationally ranked opponents and defeated Arizona in the Sun Bowl. Some fans expected Traylor to start at quarterback in 1969.

But the job went to Pat Sullivan, a special player, an All-American quarterback from John Carroll High School in Birmingham. Sullivan led the nation in total offense in 1970, set the NCAA career record for touchdown responsibility, and went on to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top player. Traylor was his successful back-up for the next two seasons.

Traylor, Sullivan and an Auburn Heisman.

Burns, Newton and an Auburn Heisman.

And now, Gatewood and Nix.

We’ll never know if Kodi Burns as the starting quarterback could have led Auburn to a perfect season, but we know that Cam Newton did.

We’ll never know if Joey Gatewood as the starting quarterback would have led Auburn to a season-opening win over Oregon, but we know that Bo Nix did.

And, we know that without touchdowns from Burns and Gatewood, those things may not have happened.

So, what does the future hold for Joey Gatewood? Will he complete a successful career at Auburn? Will he continue to play a significant role in Tiger gridiron success, regardless of his position?

What about Bo Nix? Was the game in Texas the start of an extraordinary career or did it create unrealistic, unfair expectations? Could there be, like Sullivan and Newton, a Heisman in his future?

We can’t be sure about those things yet.

But, we are sure about this – At that one moment, Bo Nix was the right man in the right place, doing what he had prepared for, achieving what he had imagined, since he was a child.

Selflessness rewarded, dreams fulfilled, legends started … lessons learned on the last Saturday night of August in Dallas.