Brooks: Burton's Patience About To Pay
DALLAS - It just might be that after four seasons of searching for the right mindset, the right fit on the field, the right path off of it, Marcus Burton now finds himself in the right place at the right time.
His Colorado coaches and defensive teammates hope so - but no more than Burton himself, an engaging senior "mike" linebacker who appears primed to make his last season his best.
His Buffaloes football career thus far has been so-so, four years rudely interrupted by a fractured tibia late in his sophomore season (2006) and a plummeting GPA that led to academic ineligibility in 2007.
Couple those setbacks with frequent movement within the linebacker ranks and Burton's frustration was difficult to hide from his teammates.
"You can't help but be frustrated when you're in a situation like that - bouncing positions and not seeing a lot of playing time, things like that," senior "will" linebacker Jeff Smart said.
"It's definitely something that's been lifted off his shoulders. He's settled in very nicely at 'mike' and I think he'll have a very successful year.''
|Marcus Burton led CU it tackles this last spring|
If Burton's performance last April spills into August and beyond, call Smart prophetic. Burton was the Buffs' leading spring tackler (21 total, 15 solo) and winner of the Hale Irwin and Iron Buffalo Awards (his second). The Irwin award goes to the most improved linebacker, safety or cornerback; the Iron Buffalo honor signifies effort, dedication, toughness, weight room excellence - prerequisites for his position.
The key now is consistency, something position coach Brian Cabral said is budding: "He's looking to fulfill himself here and I don't know why he can't. He was juggling a lot of things he couldn't juggle his first few years.
"Things started coming together for him. He started balancing things and showing maturity in that. I think he's given himself the opportunity to have his best season. But it's been a long process, and he knows that.
"To his credit, he's matured, focused on what it means to have a lot of responsibilities."
One of those is fatherhood. Burton's son, Tysen, will turn two on Sept. 29.
"Anytime you realize there's a life at stake, that you have someone else you're trying to take care of and that's your responsibility, it makes you grow up," said Burton, of Channelview, Texas.
Low on numbers in recent seasons, Cabral finally has a full stable of inside linebackers. Pretty good ones, too. The `backers as a whole could be the strength of a defense that will break in two new starters at tackle and one at end.
Little wonder a four-linebacker look (3-4) was shown with more regularity in April.
"In spring, we made a lot of transitions, played a lot of 3-4 to make it a little easier on our defensive line," Burton said. "We're also trying to get more aggressive and play more hardnosed football."
Burton believes being in the middle puts him in the best spot to do that: "The middle position they put me in is definitely one where you can go downhill a lot of times, your pass coverage is mostly zone . . . so it's definitely beneficial for me."
At 6-feet, 265 pounds, he's a physical fit for the position. Plus, he and Smart are CU's two fastest linebackers - although Burton outweighs Smart by 40 pounds.
"Marcus brings a ton of athleticism and a lot of speed, even for his size," Smart said. "He's got tremendous speed . . . we look forward to him making a bunch of plays."
Given how long he's waited, Burton is eager to make at least a bunch.
"As an athlete, you want to be the best . . . to compete and develop into the best player you can be," he said. "It's definitely taken me a while, but it's going to be worth it."