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One-on-one with Panthers rookie Brian Burns: Mentors, ‘Training Day’ and Rihanna

While the Panthers have had an up-and-down preseason, one thing has been undeniably positive: First-round draft pick Brian Burns has shown a great knack for getting to the quarterback.

Burns, a rookie edge rusher from Florida State with a blazing first step, leads the team with four sacks in three exhibitions. Burns also forced a fumble that Carolina recovered Thursday night in the Panthers’ 10-3 loss to New England.

“He did a great job,” Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said of Burns after that game. “He plays hard and never complains.”

Besides Burns’ post-sack Spider-Man celebrations, though, what do we really know about him? In this Observer interview, he talks about his biggest mentor, his star turn at the rookie talent show and what he’s watching on Netflix. Rihanna also makes a brief appearance. The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (53) celebrates most of his sacks with poses taken from the Spider-Man character. David T. Foster III

Q: Who has most deeply influenced you?

A: My parents and my older brother, Stanley McClover (who was a seventh-round Panthers draft choice in 2006 and played two years as a reserve defensive end with Carolina).

Q: You’re from Florida but you actually came to some Panthers home games as an elementary-school kid when you were Stanley’s guest and met some of the Carolina players. What was that like?

A: Every time I see one of the players he played with, like Pep (Julius Peppers) or DeAngelo (Williams), it’s weird. I was like eight years old at the time. And I know it’s weird for them, too, because I was younger then and now I’m playing for the same team they played for. All-around weird.

Q: The team website showed a clip of you bringing the house down while performing one of Denzel Washington’s scenes from memory from the movie “Training Day” at camp. How did you prepare for that?

A: I always loved the movie, especially that scene. They told me I had to do this little talent show (a staple for rookies around the NFL during training camp). After the conditioning test, I went to Cam and said: ‘Do I have to sing?’ He said ‘Nah, just do a talent, but own it.’

So before dinner, I went to my room and started looking at that ‘Training Day’ clip about 50 times before I got it down pat. Then I just came in and did it. I didn’t introduce what I was doing or anything. They just had to figure it out.

Carolina Panthers rookie pass-rusher Brian Burns doesn’t lack for confidence. If NFL teams try to block him one-on-one, he said during training camp: “I’m going to pick me every time.” Jeff Siner

Q: If you could invite three people, alive or dead, to eat dinner with you, who would you pick?

A: That’s hard. I’m going to go with Rihanna, LeBron (James) and Will Smith.

Q: What are you watching these days?

A: Right now, ‘Stranger Things 3.’ But there are a whole bunch of shows I watch. Anytime I’m bored, I just put on a show. I’m going to watch ‘Shooter’ next. I heard that was a good one.

Q: What’s the best feeling you’ve ever had while playing sports?

A: My senior year in high school (at American Heritage High in Plantation, Fla.). We were playing DeMatha at home. There was a little stretch where we were down by six points and their offense was in the red zone. There were three plays in a row I had: A sack, a tackle for loss, and then, when they went for the field goal, I blocked the field goal. It was back-to-back-to-back.

Q: What’s the biggest disappointment you’ve had in your sports career?

A: This was also my high school senior year in the second round of the playoffs, against Hallandale — a team we had beaten back in the regular season.

I couldn’t really play to my full potential because I had something wrong with my knee. Losing that game, that was tough. That high school team was the closest-knit one I ever had.

Q: Let’s go back to McClover one more time. What has your older brother Stanley specifically meant for you in your development?

A: I was with him on his journey. He’s trained me since ninth or 10th grade, when I really started taking football seriously. He’s just been my blueprint since then. I look at whatever he did wrong, and (I don’t) do that. And whatever he did good, I just do it better.

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Carolina Panthers rookie edge rusher Brian Burns (53) has four sacks in three preseason games. David T. Foster III

Q: Like what?

A: Everyone told him not to leave school (at Auburn) early. He was in with the wrong crowd. He left early. And he went to the wrong school (in college). Not saying it wasn’t a good school or a good fit for him, but he was supposed to go somewhere else. And that deterred him from his future.

I’ve seen all his wrongs. So I don’t do that. And whatever he did well, from the eight-sack season (at Auburn in 2005) to the moves he used to do, I try to do it better.

Q: Do you have a personal sack goal this year?

A: Yeah, but it’s confidential -- just between me and God.

Sports columnist Scott Fowler has written for The Charlotte Observer since 1994. He has authored or co-authored eight books, including four about the Carolina Panthers. In 2018, Fowler won the Thomas Wolfe award for outstanding newspaper writing. He also hosted the Observer’s hit podcast “Carruth,” which Sports Illustrated named the best podcast of the year in 2018.