Burton won't take Cats by surprise this time

Cats made Gator a star last year

jtipton@herald-leader.comSeptember 22, 2011 

After he seemingly came out of nowhere to torch Kentucky last season, Florida freshman Trey Burton asked his family and friends to pray for him.

"I wanted them to pray that I had the right words to say," he recalled this week as UK and Florida prepared for Saturday's rematch.

Burton knew that everyone would want to know his reaction to scoring a school-record six touchdowns against Kentucky. He became only the fourth Southeastern Conference player to score 36 or more points in a game.

Sports Illustrated came to Gainesville. So did The Sporting News, CBS Sports, ESPN and USA Today. He was also featured on ESPN's GameDay show originating from Florida's game at Alabama the following weekend.

"I felt I handled it pretty well," Burton said. "I said what's supposed to be said. I was really thankful."

To say he remembered the game against Kentucky is to say you'd remember winning a Powerball jackpot.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "I just think about the opportunity Coach (Urban) Meyer gave me playing all the positions, and all the touches he let me have. I was just thankful."

The only downside was that his mother missed the game. Cindy Burton MacFarlane accompanied younger brother Clay on a recruiting visit to Notre Dame that weekend. It's the only one of Burton's games she's missed.

"It was for a good reason," he said of his mother's absence. "It was not like she missed it for no reason."

Burton's performance caught Kentucky with a game plan around its metaphorical knees.

In Florida's first three games last season, Burton touched the ball only nine times. He ran the ball six times for 15 yards. He caught three passes for seven yards.

The Cats never knew what hit them ... or ran by them or caught passes over them or even threw a pass completed despite them.

"He was kind of a guy we didn't look at in film," UK linebacker Danny Trevathan said of Burton.

Burton caught and ran and passed the Cats by surprise? "That's what I'm saying," Trevathan said. "It was a surprise to us. He probably surprised himself."

As a 6-foot-3 high school quarterback from Venice, Fla., Burton expected to hold a clipboard and signal in plays to Tim Tebow's successor, John Brantley, in his first college season. Maybe, as he did in high school and as Tebow did as a freshman, he would get the direct snap when the Gators ran the "Wildcat" formation.

Rather than meekly accept a limited role as a freshman, Burton approached Meyer.

"I told him I didn't want to sit," Burton said. "I wanted to play."

Meyer, who was in his last season as Florida coach, said Burton could participate in drills at another position.

"I told him, 'Yeah, I was wiling to try it,'" Burton said. "We just took it from there. I went to receiver. Then I went to fullback. Then running back and tight end.

"I pretty much knew most of it because I was a quarterback. When you play quarterback, you have to know all the other positions and what they do."

Burton considered his nine touches (against Miami of Ohio, South Florida and Tennessee) a learning experience that eased him into college football. "I guess you could say it was a smooth transition," he said.

Too smooth to suit Kentucky. Burton scored each time he carried the ball against the Cats: from 11, 10, 9, 3 and 7 yards. He caught five passes, one of them an 11-yard touchdown toss from Brantley. His only pass resulted in a 42-yard completion.

"I really didn't anticipate it, at all," he said. "I guess I was hot, and Coach (Meyer) kept letting me carry the ball."

The performance propelled Burton to a season of 12 touchdowns, third all-time for a Florida freshman (behind Jabar Gaffney's 14 and Emmitt Smith's 13).

Of the many ways Florida used Burton last season, Meyer famously quipped, "It should be illegal."

Burton embraces the multi-tasking "because I'm not sitting on the bench," he said. "That's the last thing I want to do. I want to be out there contributing, helping the team win. (Meyer) told me my options. I said, can I try them all?"

Florida's coaching change this season from Meyer to Will Muschamp shuffled Burton's roles. While abandoning quarterback, he's become the Gators' short-yardage battering ram. He's still productive, having run 10 times for 49 yards and two touchdowns. He's also caught five passes for 49 yards and another touchdown.

"They don't actually do as much (with Burton) this year," UK Coach Joker Phillips said. "They're more of a conventional offense. They're not as much gun-read-option, those things. They're not doing those things they did with him last year. They're getting the balls in the hands of those world-class sprinters."

Phillips meant Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

Rainey, who leads Florida in rushing, receiving and punt returns, refers to Burton as a "program guy," a player willing to sacrifice his professional ambitions for the team.

"I guess I could have been stubborn and said, 'No, I want to play quarterback,'" Burton said. "And try to just force my way into that. But I had some common sense. I knew I wouldn't play quarterback at the next level if I even had the opportunity to play at the next level."

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