Frank Wilson readily admits it — Burton Burns has paddled his butt.
Back in the day, around 1990, when Wilson was a student at St. Augustine, and Burns was the co-head coach of the Purple Knights, laying the wood was a routine form of discipline (since discontinued, amid great controversy) at the school.
“Oh yeah, I’m sure Burton paddled me,” Wilson said. “Probably more than once.
“You could get a lick for not having your shoes tied or sleeping in class. The coaching staff probably wore out their arms on me.”
Now, Wilson would like to return the favor — figuratively, of course.
Two decades-plus later, Wilson and Burns find themselves with the same jobs at archrivals — running backs coach and recruiting coordinator at LSU and Alabama respectively.
And, through a twist of fate, they’re in a high-stakes battle over the nation’s No. 1 prospect Leonard Fournette, who not only happens to play the position Wilson and Burns coach, but also is a senior at their alma mater.
There’s even a third St. Aug grad in the mix — Florida tight ends coach Derek Lewis, who played for Burns a few years after Wilson, and who has wrangled an official visit from Fournette.
But LSU and Alabama are considered the frontrunners.
“It’s a pretty interesting dynamic,” Wilson said. “Burton and I have always had a close, professional relationship.
“He’s the person who encouraged me to get into coaching because he thought I had the potential to be good at it. Whenever I see him, I always tell him, ‘Coach, I love you,’ and all that good stuff.”
Because Alabama coach Nick Saban’s gag order on his assistants, Burns was not allowed to speak for this story. But he has an effective surrogate — daughter Erin Burns who is the director of communications at St. Aug.
“From what I hear, they’re pretty similar in their recruiting techniques, which, since they came from the same environment shouldn’t be a surprise,” she said. “But Frank’s also his own person, and he does things his way, too.
“There’s a little rivalry there, but it’s all love and respect, too, since we’re all part of the St. Augustine community. I just make sure every time I see Frank I say, ‘Roll, Tide.’ I say that to Leonard, too.”
This is not the first time Wilson and Burns have vied for a top recruit, and Fournette’s not the only one they’re competing for this year.
Tackle Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, the consensus No. 1 offensive line prospect in the country, is being told by both schools how much fun it would be to block for Fournette.
And two years ago, Burns and Alabama beat out LSU for safety Landon Collins of Dutchtown, while Wilson and the Tigers won the battle for defensive tackle Anthony Johnson of O. Perry Walker.
“Both of them were pretty hands on,” Johnson said. “Both stressed families really strong, especially Frank Wilson because he’s from Algiers and he’d been around my family more than coach Burns.
“Burton Burns is older guy (60) but he knows what he’s doing and tries to stay young. Both of them have the gift of gab, but sometimes you’ve got to roll with the younger guy.”
Collins was a much-publicized loss for LSU to Alabama, especially since it came in the days leading up to the 2012 BCS Championship Game between the Tigers and the Tide.
But Dutchtown coach Benny Saia said Collins made up his mind to go Alabama when was a sophomore and teammate Eric Reid signed with LSU.
“Landon told Eric that day, ‘I’m going to Alabama and whip your tail,’ ” Saia said. “Frank still did a great job recruiting him, and he was sorry to lose him.
“But you move on. LSU will be fine.”
That’s something Wilson likes to point out.
“People seem to remember the ones we lose more than the ones we get, and we get a lot more guys from Louisiana than we lose,” he said. “I guess we’re supposed to get everybody.
“But I’d say our percentage of Louisiana players that we want is pretty high, and we will continue to do that.”
If there’s a touch of irritation in Wilson’s voice, it’s understandable.
While what happens on the field is just part of the game, no matter, what, recruiting comes down to personal persuasion, not just by the head coach but by the recruiting coordinator and the other assistants.
At schools like LSU and Alabama which routinely compete for national championships, it’s absolutely essential to bring in top talent every year, especially those capable of making an immediate impact because staying three years instead of four has become the norm at the other end for that level of player when the NFL draft beckons.
That means things that in recruiting battles, relationships between coaches from rival schools can be tested, especially in a case like this when the St. Aug factor comes into play.
“The only time it gets bad is when somebody starts saying derogatory stuff about you or your school,” Wilson said. “But I’ve never had an issue about that with coach Burns.
“Some people cast stones. He doesn’t.”
St. Augustine coach Cyril Crutchfield can personally attest to that.
Two years ago, while coaching at South Plaquemines, his stepson, Bradley Sylve, was being courted by the Tigers and the Tide. Sylve ultimately signed with Alabama.
“Frank thinks he can get anybody in the state of Louisiana,” Crutchfield said. “But if a kid wants to go somewhere else, that’s fine as long as you don’t talk against him.
“Burton gets a little more personally involved while still having an old school style. They’re both very classy and professional, especially in this case because they wouldn’t do anything that reflects badly on St. Augustine.”
Fournette has the same words of praise.
“They’re both great people to be around,” he said. “The good thing for me is that they both went to St. Aug and they know what a St. Aug athlete goes through.
“I know I’m going to have to tell at least one of them ‘No.’ That’s going to be a hard day.”
It won’t the first time either Wilson or Burns has lost out on a coveted player.
And if Fournette should choose the Tide, Wilson said he doesn’t desire any revenge — either for this or punishment inflicted long ago.
“Paddle my coach?” Wilson said. “I could never do that.”
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