Deante Burton caught the ball and pushed forward. The junior receiver was two yards away from a touchdown, close enough to hear individual fans behind the end zone shouting.
If he could get past one defender, he was in. So he fought with everything he had, desperately trying to break a tackle. Receiver and corner wrestled for what felt like minutes until Burton fell to the ground at the 1.
He missed a touchdown by the smallest of margins – again.
“Sometimes we talk about me being cursed,” Burton said with a chuckle after Kansas State’s spring football game Saturday. “Last year, I got down to the 2, the 4 and the 5. Then, against Oklahoma State, I had two touchdown catches that were called out. So we joke about me being cursed. I caught it and backpedaled and tried to get in. Yet again, it just wasn’t quite enough.”
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Burton has never caught a touchdown for the Wildcats, but he shouldn’t be talking about curses for much longer. If he continues to get open and catch long passes the way he did for K-State at its spring game, he will find the end zone next season.
While playing with the first-team offense, Burton snagged four catches for a game-high 107 yards. His longest catch went for 46 yards, and he grabbed two in the red zone. He was the top target for quarterbacks Jesse Ertz and Joe Hubener, more than doubling every other receiver.
K-State’s passing attack will look much different next season without record-setting quarterback Jake Waters and star receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton. Together, they helped the Wildcats throw for 3,736 yards.
K-State needs someone new to take the lead in an offense that figures to rely more heavily on the run. Perhaps Burton is the man.
“That motivates me a lot,” Burton said. “I remember before both of them left they came up and talked to me. I remember Curry saying, ‘You have got to grow up.’ Tyler told me, ‘You have got to step up.’
“I have always kind of skated by, being the younger guy that let them do all the work. It was their team. You’ve got Lockett, a proven All-American, and Curry, without a doubt one of the smartest receivers I have ever seen play. The year before that, they had Tramaine (Thompson) and he was playing my role.
“They all said, ‘When we are gone we are leaving it to you.’ They really pushed me forward to become a leader and step into their roles. I don’t want to let them down.”
Burton has the physical tools to take over as K-State’s top receiver. At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, the Manhattan native ranked fifth on the team with 17 catches for 171 yards as a sophomore while predominantly lining up on the opposite side of the field as Lockett, while Sexton ran out of the slot.
He made his share of plays, but he was also plagued by drops and an inability to keep his feet inbounds near the sideline.
Burton learned from those experiences and decided to spend the majority of his offseason time studying defenses. Watching Lockett and Sexton taught him that being fast and quick wasn’t enough. You also have to be smart and one step ahead of your defender.
In that sense, spring practices represented a step in the right direction.
“He has been inconsistent and dropped the ball on the ground when he shouldn’t, but he has made some nice catches,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “It is just about consistency. With guys like that, they have been on the field and they know the system. They are players, but you have to do it every snap. That is what has kind of held him back as much as anything.
“He started off great during the spring and finished really well, but he had some struggles in between.”
More than three months remain before the start of summer practices, leading up to the season opener against South Dakota on Sept. 5.
Burton wants to take advantage of each day. He will do whatever it takes to catch that first touchdown pass.
“I’m ready to be the guy,” Burton said. “If you don’t want to be the guy, then you are not playing the game to the best of your ability. You have got to have the mentality that you want the ball on fourth-and-5. I want the opportunity. I want the ball to come to me. That is what I am working toward.”