Player Profile: TJ Burns

By Adam Ruffner & Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen

Upstate New York has it rough. Record breaking snowfalls routinely sock the region. It constantly lives in the shadows of other, larger cities – to the North Toronto, to the South New York. And the region’s the sports fans have a particular struggle: Sabres fans are well conditioned to weather losing seasons, and Bills fans – well, Bills fans are best known as the answer to the trivia question: “Which fan base has had to endure four straight championship loses?”

But there is hope on the horizon.

Despite a 1-13 record last season, the Rochester Dragons boast one of the AUDL’s youngest rosters and have serious potential; USA Ultimate recently named three Dragons players to its invite-only tryout for Team USA: Kevin Quinlan, David Abbott, and Joseph Thompson.

“We all feel that we deserve to be here, and that we can play with anyone,” Dragons captain Timothy “TJ” Burns said. And he would know – as a three-year veteran of the Rochester franchise, Burns has shepherded the integration of young players into big roles.

Burns and other members of the Dragons’ leadership mitigated high turnover rates in previous years by focusing on development in a grueling East division. Regardless of who is on the roster, Burns follows a personal mantra of leading by example, and tries to cultivate a strong work ethic among his teammates that will showcase the quality of ultimate played in the area.

“We love the challenge of it,” Burns said of trying to build an elite AUDL team. “We’re all so grateful that they went out on a limb and placed the team here. We don’t get a lot of opportunity to play high-level competition, and to have that on a consistent basis has been huge for all of us.”

As part of his character, Burns also emphasizes spirit, something that first attracted him to the game.

“Faith is a huge part of my life,” Burns said. “The game that I play in ultimate, I try to live my life in a way that is consistent with that. One of the reasons I really cling to ultimate is that responsibility and integrity—everything comes down to the individual responsibility, and respect for one’s opponent.”

Quiet and self-assured, it’s tough sometimes to get Burns to talk about his personal accomplishments. He’s quick to deflect, and talk either about the steps the team needs to take to improve for next season (short answer: focus on the fundamentals and build team chemistry), or how to incorporate new talent.

But make no mistake, this is also the player who led the Dragons in points played last season, and reeled in 27 goals including one top-ten worthy tightrope grab.

Burns knows first-hand the frustrations of being part of a fan base prone to losing seasons and seemingly constant disappointment -- he’s a die-hard Bills and Sabres fan.

“It’s kind of a curse. It’s a pretty rough life sometimes,” he said. “Sometimes I feel like I go through days where my sports life is the epitome of non-success.”

But Burns also understands that the best way to infuse excitement and hope into a beleaguered franchise is to focus on the future and grind during the offseason.

“Being a fan, being a player—in each of those roles, you try to keep a perspective on everything,” Burns said. “Move past and move forward. If you don’t, you’ll get stuck and you won’t find value in what you’re doing.”