What better place to conduct an interview with linebacker Mike Burns than the Esperanza High School weight room.
It’s here among the barbells and incline presses that Burns has developed into one of the strongest linebackers in Orange County.
He spent five hours a day in the off-season improving his upper and lower body strength through a series of drills provided by assistant coach Bill Pendleton.
The program helped Burns lower his time in the 40-yard dash by a second and gave him the self-confidence on the field to battle any offensive guard.
“This is my home away from home,” said Burns, sitting next to a bench press. “I kind of like it here.”
Burns’ lifting schedule is impressive. Three days a week, he works on his upper body strength with bench presses, lock outs, incline bench presses and arm curls. On the other days, he performs squats, lunges, power clean and dead lifts to improve his lower body strength.
In the evenings, he works out at a local fitness center for a couple of hours with his girlfriend, Shannon Port. “I’ve been trying to talk her into getting into some body building contests,” he said.
Burns’ motivation for building more muscle is simple: Added strength gives him the stamina to resist the blocks of opposing guards, and his newly acquired speed allows him to chase down tailbacks.
“I feel I can win any battle of the hit with an offensive lineman,” he said. “My speed has allowed me to get a piece of the action no matter what the play or where the ball is going. Mentally, I feel strong, even though I’ve lost 17 pounds since the season started.”
The inability to work out regularly since the football season began 14 weeks ago has frustrated Burns.
“I feel like I’m getting small,” Burns said. “I eat constantly, but the season has taken its toll. I’m not burned out on football, but I look forward to daily workouts again.”
Burns has set a goal of bench pressing 425 pounds. Last year, he reached a goal of 380 pounds and had a personal best of 55 feet 9 1/2 inches in the shotput for Esperanza’s track team.
Burns finished fifth in the shot at the Southern Section Division 3-A championship, but was overshadowed by teammate Mark Parlin, who went on to finish second in the state meet as a junior and recently earned a track scholarship to UCLA.
“Track is something I look forward to, until the meets,” he said. “Just once, I’d like to beat Mark Parlin. It’s very frustrating always finishing second. This year, I’m shooting for 60 feet, and he’ll probably go to 70 feet.”
Burns’ inability to perform consistently in the shot reached a frustrating point last season, when he said, “I have the school record for choke.”
“I think one of the reasons why I lift so hard is someday I’m going to beat Mark,” Burns said.
It’s this competitive drive that separates Burns from other linebackers in the county, according to Esperanza Coach Gary Meek. Meek described Burns as “a steady but unspectacular player” with a burning desire to excel on the football field.
“Mike’s biggest asset is his speed,” Meek said. “You look at him on film and wonder, ‘How can a guy that big be so fast?’ Mike’s speed will earn him a college scholarship.”
Top-seeded Esperanza (12-0) will play host to Hart (9-3) in the semifinals of the Division III playoffs at 7:30 tonight at Placentia’s Bradford Stadium. The game matches Esperanza’s hard-hitting defense against Hart’s no-huddle offense that mixes a myriad of formations.
Burns attended Esperanza football games as a youngster growing up in Yorba Linda. Pendleton said the coaching staff was well aware of him as an eighth-grader and marveled at his speed and strength as a freshman.
Burns was elevated to the varsity team as a sophomore, but had to be content being a member of the scout team that simulated opposing offenses for the Aztecs’ first-string defense.
“I was the running back going against guys like Matt Werner and Sean Donohue,” he said. “That sure toughened me up.”
Burns said he and his teammates began to anticipate a banner season during two-a-day drills in August, when the players talked of a 14-week season.
“I don’t think anyone expected to be 12-0 at this point,” he said. “But after the first game, several of the guys said, ‘OK, 13 more weeks to go.’ There was a feeling all along that we were going to the finals.”
Looking back, Burns said his four-year career went swiftly, adding, “I can remember freshman practices like they were yesterday.”
Pendleton said the maturing of Burns was one of the highlights of the 1990 season.
“Mike developed the million-dollar body,” Pendleton said. “He is a unique athlete who won the Orange County Weightlifting Championship and the frosh-soph Empire League 100-meter championship on the same day as a sophomore.
“I’ve challenged him and channeled his personality for four years. He was never very mature until this year, when he became a leader. It’s been very satisfying watching him grow this year as a person.”