‘What a coach is supposed to be’
After a life-altering car accident, Nick Burd is guiding Matoaca athletes
Nick Burd notices details about the world around him that he overlooked before his accident.
Things he walked over — cracks in the sidewalks, potholes and slanted pavement— are more noticeable in a wheelchair. And everyday tasks that he took for granted — getting out of bed, putting on his pants and driving to work— feel more meaningful without movement in his legs.
Burd, a 2004 Matoaca High School graduate who broke his neck in a 2005 car crash, says the day-to-day challenges of his medical circumstance have heightened his ability to appreciate the little things, and the opportunity presented by each day.
“The accident itself just changed my outlook on everything, mademe enjoy life itself more— the good, the bad, the ups and the downs,” said Burd, who was hired in late October
to be the Warriors’ new boys varsity basketball head coach.
“There’s no reason to really be that upset, because we still have the ability to coach the next play, in a sense, to use basketball terms. So it’s always good to be able to wake up and attack the day and take advantage of the opportunity that you’re given and blessed to have.”
Burd, 34, feels particularly blessed to have the opportunity to lead a program that’s part of a community he cherishes. He said members of the Matoaca community in Chesterfield County donated money and helped renovate his house to accommodate his living needs upon his return from a lengthy rehabilitation process after the accident.
Charles Payton coached Burd when the latter was a Matoaca player for three seasons. Now the Warriors’ athletics director, Payton remembers Burd as a tenacious, versatile, 6-foot-3 center who could handle the ball, shoot, block shots and rebound. Though undersized for his position, Burd played bigger than he was, a testament to his competitive fire, Payton said.
The former coach would not have been surprised at the time to learn that Burd— a “glue guy” for Payton’s program— would one day become a coach himself. He comes from an athletic family; Burd’s brother is former University of Virginia wide receiver Kris Burd.
Burd attended the Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, R.I., after Matoaca, but came home at the end of his first semester and began taking classes at Southside Virginia Community College. His plan was to transfer to Virginia Military Institute and play basketball with his friend Reggie Williams, who went on to play in the NBA.
On his way home from school one day, he fell asleep at the wheel. He woke up in the hospital.
Burd doesn’t remember much from the day of the accident. After he woke up, “they basically told me that I’d never be able to do anything onmy own again,” Burd said of his doctors. The crash left him paralyzed from the chest down.
Payton visited Burd at VCU Medical Center shortly after the accident. He prayed with a fellow coach and Burd’s mother.
“He really fought through, he was fighting for his life,” Payton said. “It was really tough to see him in that state.”
Though the prognosis was bleak, Burd was never deterred because he had faith in his support system.
“Thanks to the support I got the whole time, it wasn’t really a problem. Matoaca had my back from the moment I got in the accident,” Burd said.
“My family was there, good friends, good people, I had lots of visitors, lots of people come and let me know they hadmy back. So it was really just fight the fight, it wasn’t really too sad of a thing, I was comfortable because I knew people had my back.”
Burd spent more than a year at VCU Medical Center and a rehabilitation center, and the rehab process continued long after that. It took him four to five years to reach the point he’s at today, where he can feel his whole body and perform tasks like getting in and out of the car and putting his chair together.
Basketball had been Burd’s passion his entire life, and yet, for a time after the accident, he wasn’t sure if he’d have a future
in the sport.
But when a few kids from his neighborhood got cut from their high school team and needed a place to play, Burd wound up finding them a league and coaching them— and so began his career on the sidelines. He returned to classes at the community college, where the coach offered him a spot on his staff while Burd was still a student.
“Once the kids reached out to me and I got a taste of it I pretty much couldn’t stop. I knew that was what I was supposed to be doing,” Burd said.
Afewyears after the accident, Payton crossed paths with Burd again, and Burd told his former coach he’d started coaching with an AAU program. As more years passed, Payton would occasionally see Burd at different Matoaca sporting events, from youth league contests to soccer matches and, of course, varsity basketball games.
During those years, Burd became an assistant at Hermitage High School under varsity coach Rob Rice. Both had been mentored by Collegiate School boys varsity coach Del Harris, and Harris recommended Burd to Rice as a candidate to join his staff.
“We hit it off instantly,” Rice said. “Just his passion and enthusiasm was evident on our first phone call, and then through two years together, his
work ethic was tremendous. I was just trying to convince him to stay with me long enough because I knew that he would be running his own show soon.”
The thing that separates Burd from other coaches, Rice said, is his ability to establish connections with his players and communicate instructions. At Hermitage, Burd spent a lot of time outside of practices and games with his players developing meaningful relationships and serving as a mentor off the court.
“My coaching is not even really about basketball, per se,” Burd said. “It’s more about just being a good person and taking advantage of every opportunity that you get so that you don’t feel bad about anything you’re doing, so that you can go to sleep, wake up in the morning tomorrow and try again. If you’re taking care of that, then basketball takes care of itself.”
Rice said having Burd as an assistant was akin to having a second head coach. His perspective on life, in particular, and how he imparted that to his team, was invaluable, Rice said.
“We were about using basketball to help these kids get ready for life after basketball,” Rice said.
“Our biggest thing was teaching them how to be positive influences in society. … And I think he represents all of that, the hard work, not taking things for granted, attention to details, small things matter. He encompasses what a coach is supposed to be.”
In those years, Hermitage had a word wall that included words like “relentless” and “unselfish.” The point of the word wall was to help players translate lessons learned on the basketball court to everyday life. It’s the ability to bridge that gap, Rice said, for which Burd possesses a truly special knack.
“He’s done more for me than I could ever even explain,” Rice said. “I was more excited for him getting that job [at Matoaca] than I think he was about getting that job.”
After Rice left Hermitage, Payton found out Burd had been hired as the school’s junior varsity coach. It was then that Payton began to envision Burd rejoining the program that had over the years meant so much to him.
Burd applied for the varsity job at Matoaca about two years ago, but at the time didn’t have enough experience at the varsity level, Payton said. So Payton asked Burd to be his JV coach, a job Burd accepted last year. But Burd ended up finishing the year as both the JV and interim varsity head coach.
Although other well-qualified candidates applied, Payton said Burd’s success and instant connection with the players rendered the decision of who should take over the program a relatively easy one.
“I was really, really impressed with Nick. The kids really responded to him, they respected him, the parents liked him, and I was really impressed with his knowledge of game strategy,”
“His practices were very organized, his kids were disciplined, they all play for each other in a way that just wowed me.”
One of the lessons Burd focuses on imparting to his players is that few high school athletes turn into professionals — and few high school coaches reach the NBA.
“But we are all going to be husbands, fathers, employees, employers, citizens in the community. So we need to try and be the best those that we can be,” Burd said.
“So take advantage of what you can, focus on the things you can control. … So I try to teach them to grow as a person, to use basketball as a tool in your toolbox, a weapon in your arsenal.”
Burd’s plan for the future isn’t focused on wins and losses. He’s a strong believer in the mantra of taking care of what you’re supposed to take care of — your mindset and attitude, for example. If you just focus on that, the wins will come along. So his goal is for the Warriors to be the most fundamentally sound team in central Virginia, and a defensive menace collectively.
“It doesn’t take the most skill to set a good screen, or to step over for help and take a charge,” Burd said.
Burd and Payton foresee a seamless transition into his head coaching tenure, because Burd is already familiar with just about every player in the program on the varsity and JV levels.
When Paytonmade a Facebook post announcing the hire, it garnered nearly 400 likes and more than 100 shares. He said the pride the Matoaca community has in Burd is constantly evident in how the coach and community interact with each other.
“He’s very supportive, he’s out at the games. Nick is a guy that if it’s not a basketball game Nick is still out there supporting it,” Payton said. “Nick supports everybody in the community.”
In taking the head coaching position, Burd said he sees an opportunity to give back to a Matoaca community that has supported him through the toughest of times.
“This is my chance to repay it, repay it by all the people I went to school with, all the people who looked out for me, came to games. I get a chance to give back to their kids, their grandkids, their nieces and nephews,” Burd said.
“Whoever may come through those doors, I get a chance to help the Matoaca name, the town, the community. I just want to give back.”
Burd’s family, too, has always been a cherished source of motivation and support for him. His mother died from breast cancer a couple of years ago, and everything he does, he does to make her, and the community he loves, proud.
It’s that selfless nature and the attention to details overlooked by many that made Burd the right coach to take over Matoaca’s boys basketball program, Payton said.
Despite the success he’s enjoyed in his coaching career, Burd doesn’t like to get in team photos, even after winning tournaments and championships.
“Because it’s not about me
— I don’t even like this,” Burd said at the end of his interview for this story. “I want to say stuff about the kids.”
“I don’t do it for any type of notoriety, accolades. … I’m just here to make sure we stay together.”
“Once the kids reached out to me and I got a taste of it, I pretty much couldn’t stop. I knew that was what I was supposed to be doing.” Nick Burd, New Matoaca High School basketball coach