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Keiran Burnham starring for football X-Men

Keiran Burnham has developed into a placekicking and punting star for the St. F.X. X-Men football team. Bryan Kennedy
Keiran Burnham has developed into a placekicking and punting star for the St. F.X. X-Men football team. Bryan Kennedy - Corey LeBlanc
ANTIGONISH, N.S. —

A size 11-and-a-half right foot will be one of the keys to the St. F.X. X-Men repeating as Atlantic University Sport (AUS) football champions.    

That appendage belongs to fourth-year punter and placekicker Keiran Burnham.    

“Some of my friends encouraged me to come out for the team,” the Cambridge, Ontario native said of his start in the sport.    

That happened in Grade 9, with the high-schooler making the transition – as football kickers often do – from the soccer pitch.    

Burnham not only played for his high school squad, but also his hometown Cambridge Lions.    

“I really enjoyed playing on those teams,” he said, recalling the “friendly and great people” he played with.    

As he continued to take the field, Burnham said he “started to get pretty decent.”    

Because of his background in taking soccer free kicks, he noted, placekicking came “more naturally.”    

“There are similar styles,” Burnham said of both types of kicks.    

Another key to his development was working with Darryl Wheeler, a London-based kicking guru.    

“Both can help the team at times when we need it,” Burnham said, when asked whether he prefers punting or placekicking.    

“I love doing both,” he added.    

Looking ahead to university, he came to the conclusion his sport future at that level would come in football rather than soccer.    

When deciding where to take his skills, X-Men head coach Gary Waterman contacted him, inviting Burnham on a recruiting trip to the Antigonish campus.    

“I got to spend some time with some of the guys on the team,” he said, describing St. F.X. and the community as a “great place.”    

Burnham talked about the appeal of smaller classes and strong academics, along with living in what he described as a “big community.”    

“It drew me in,” he said.  

He agreed his decision was the right one.    

“It is great – I love it here,” Burnham added.

‘Mentally tough’    

In 2018, the Bachelor of Arts student earned AUS all-star nods – for both punting and placekicking – in helping lead the Blue and White to their third conference crown in four seasons.    

After converting on 78 per cent of his field goal attempts last season, Burnham has picked up where he left off in 2019, going eight-for-11 in the X-Men’s first three regular season contests.    

And, when it comes to punting, he continues to be stellar; averaging 42.4 yards per boot, with his longest kick covering 59 yards.    

He has also pinned X-Men opponents inside their 20-yard line on five occasions.    

“Keiran has done a great job; he is having another outstanding season,” St. F.X. special teams coach Jim Daley said, noting Burnham brings “tremendous experience” to both positions.   

Describing him as “mentally tough,” Daley praised his student-athlete for his “high level of composure.”    

“The rush does not affect him,” he noted.    

And, most importantly, Daley marvelled at his ability to brush off mistakes.      

“He doesn’t make many, but when he does they don’t stay with him; he moves on,” Daley said.    

“If something doesn’t go right, he shrugs it off,” he added.    

When it comes to punting, he pointed to Burnham’s ability to kick it out of bounds inside the 20-yard line, which is a key in the field position battle that is a crucial element of any football  game.    

“He is really good at doing that, and keeps getting better and better,” Daley said.    

While working with him over the past five seasons, Daley said – like most young athletes – Burnham has gotten “stronger and more mature.”    

“It has improved tremendously,” he added of his leg strength, noting his commitment to the weight room.    

That has translated into improved hang time and distance on his punts, while Daley estimated more than 20-yard improvement in his field goal range.    

“In my opinion, he is the best special teams coach in the country,” Burnham said of his veteran mentor.    

He noted “whenever we can talk,” he takes advantage of that wisdom.    

“Coach Daley’s approach elevates the entire team,” Burnham said.       

He added Daley has instilled in the X-Men how “crucial” special teams are to success.    

“We put a huge emphasis on it, and he leads us,” Burnham said. 

The locks    

Fans may have noticed a physical difference in Burnham, one even visible while wearing his football helmet.    

“I was planning on cutting it off near the end of university,” he said of his now-gone locks that flowed down his shoulders in previous seasons.    

The visit to the barber actually came in May, making it almost six years since he met up with the clippers.    

“I wanted to give a little bit back and help others,” Burnham said of the haircut.    

He donated his hair and raised money for cancer research and support, in honour of one of his former high school coaches and one of his family members.

The future    

When it comes to a professional career, Daley – a former head coach in the Canadian Football League (CFL) – said Burnham has “great potential.”    

He added “everything in his game,” including hang time, range and getting kicks off, continues to improve and is ready for that next level.    

“He is an interesting guy in so many ways,” he said, reiterating the intangibles – mental toughness and composure – that Burnham possesses.    

Daley described his player as a “really grounded person.”    

“Keiran is always focussed and positive, with a maturity that really sets him apart,” he said.

Have to improve    

Although a possible pro career is on the horizon, Burnham and his coach are focussed on the X-Men and their quest to capture back-to-back league titles.    

“We still have a good chance,” Burnham said, when asked about the season prospects for the 1-2 X-Men, who are wrapping up their bye week.    

He noted the team has work to do in practice in order “to improve our game.”    

Burnham added the X-Men have been “taking too many penalties at inopportune times.”    

“We have to perform better at game time,” he said.    

The X-Men return to action Saturday (Sept. 21), when they host the rival Saint Mary’s Huskies at St. F.X. Stadium.    

Kick-off is set for 2 p.m.

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