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LOCAL SPORTS NOTES Burns credits ex-coach for chance to play pro ball

Even though he went undrafted last weekend at the NFL Draft, former Rochester Community and Technical College receiver Antoine Burns made a giant step toward playing in the NFL by signing a contract with the Cleveland Browns.

Signing an NFL contract didn't come as a surprise to Burns. In fact, Burns first began to believe he could play professional football after a conversation he had with then-Yellowjackets head coach Joel Swisher, late in the 1999 football season.

"It was about a month before (the Pespi-Cola Bowl). We were sitting in his office having a one-on-one conversation," Burns said. "He told me he truly believed that I'd play on Sundays.

"It meant a lot. I wasn't really expecting something like that to come like it did. It meant a lot that he felt that way about me and shared stuff like that with me."

After playing two years at RCTC, Swisher helped Burns, a Milwaukee native, earn a scholarship from the U of M.

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"Me and coach Swisher always had a personal relationship," Burns said. "He told me if I'd take care of business, he'd get me into a big school and that's exactly what he did."

Swisher died a couple of months after that conversation from a heart attack. During Swisher's funeral, Burns called his former coach "the father figure that I never had."

After redshirting in 2000, Burns played his junior and senior seasons with the Gophers. After not getting invited to the NFL Combine, he performed for a dozen or so NFL scouts at the Gophers' quasi-Combine. Not long after the draft concluded, he agreed to terms as a rookie free agent with the Browns.

"I wish (Swisher) could see this, but I'm sure he's watching," Burns said.

Burns becomes the second player with southeastern Minnesota ties to join the Cleveland Browns' roster. Rushford-Peterson grad Steve Heiden is a tight end with the Browns.

Ben Thomas, a Rapid City, S.D., native who was drafted in the 31st round of the 2001 free agent draft by the Minnesota Twins, will return for a second season with the Rochester Honkers. Thomas, a sophomore third baseman at Chaparrals of Midland (Texas), led the Honkers last season in stolen bases (18), doubles (14) and walks (32). Thomas will play Division I baseball at Mississippi this fall.

•Joseph; Llanas, a left-handed pitcher for Texas Tech, who was 1-1 with a 4.21 ERA for the Honkers last season, will also return to Rochester for the 2003 season.

Wabasha-Kellogg senior outside hitter Mindy Peters (5-9), Plainview senior setter Raegan Irish (5-6) and Zumbrota-Mazeppa senior middle blocker Kiersten Arendt (6-0) all have signed letters of intent to play volleyball for Division II Winona State this fall.

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For the third consecutive year, Lourdes hockey defenseman Josh Duncan will play for a National Select team. Duncan, who was on the Select 15 and Select 16 teams, is joined by Benilde-St. Margaret's Greg Battani on the National Select 17 team. They are the only two defensemen in the state who made the national team all three years. The national tournament is July 11-18 at National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.

At 76.1, Rochester Lourdes sophomore Staci Smoot carries the lowest golfing average among all girls in the state. At 76.5, Andrew Alexander of Lourdes ranks 14th among all boys in the state.

• The; Lourdes boys golf team, coached by Tom Murphy, has an average team score of 311.8, which is the fourth lowest average among all schools -- big and small -- in the state. Rochester Century, coached by Jeff Wells, has an average of 318.6, which is 11th.

• Leah; Sakhitab, a KAATS gymnast in Pine Island, left today for Colorado Springs, Colo., where she will compete on Sunday at the Junior Olympic National Championships.

• Rochester; Mayo's Aaron Buzard owns the state's fastest time (49.96 seconds) in the 400-meter dash. Century's Ben Puhl has the state's third fastest time in the 3,200 at 9:37.0. Stewartville's Eric Schroeder's throw of 53 feet, 81⁄2; inches is third best in the state in the shot put.

• Hayfield's; Lauren Burmeister's leap of 37-01⁄2; is the best triple jump distance in the state.

Troy Young's local sports notebook runs every Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at tyoung@postbulletin.com.

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