How did Kansas State’s most drop-prone receiver become sure-handed?
Deante Burton can answer that question in five words.
“They are called up-downs,” he said.
Burton, a senior from Manhattan, has done far more up-downs than he cares to admit since joining the Wildcats in 2012. At times, it felt like he spent more time performing the popular football drill – in which you run in place, drop to the ground and immediately jump back up – than he did running routes.
“You drop a ball in practice, you do up-downs,” Burton said. “I dropped a lot at some points in my career. (Receivers) coach (Andre) Coleman, he doesn’t really play about drops. Being afraid of up-downs will help you catch a lot of tough passes. We have this rule. If it touches your hands and you don’t bring it in, it’s 10 up-downs. And those things really add up.”
Up-downs appear to be a thing of the past for Burton. After being defined by drops for 3 1/2 seasons, he is suddenly flashing NFL hands. The well-placed passes that used to bounce off his stomach or finger tips are now resulting in first downs. But he is doing much more than making routine catches. He is also making highlight grabs.
Doesn’t matter if the pass is high, low, wobbly or coming at him like a bullet, he’s catching it. At least that’s how it has seemed lately. Burton has caught 13 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown in his past three games, after catching nine passes for 137 yards and no scores in his first five.
He was at his best last weekend against Iowa State, catching a back-shoulder throw against solid coverage for a touchdown, corralling a pass thrown at his shoelaces for a first down and holding onto the ball on a slant route while getting hit hard.
“It’s just about preparing,” Burton said. “Coach Coleman is always saying, ‘You have to be ready to go get the bad ones. Those are the ones you have to want. Those are the ones that big-time players make.’ That is something we have really prided ourselves on this season, making the tough catch.”
That mindset has earned Burton the trust of K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz.
Anymore, he expects good things to happen when he puts the ball in Burton’s vicinity. Against Texas, he opened the game with a 31-yard heave to Burton down the sideline.
“He is doing a real good job,” Ertz said, “and his confidence is going to grow the more games he has like this, where his making multiple catches and a grabbing a touchdown … You put it where he can go get it and he makes the play.”
After a slow start, Burton now leads the team in yards per target (7.8), catching 22 passes for 297 yards and a touchdown on 38 looks from K-State’s quarterbacks.
Few expected Burton to come on like this, but he has always had the tools to be a productive college receiver. He simply needed to put them to good use in games.
K-State coach Bill Snyder sensed that was possible when he saw how hard Burton worked heading into his final season. Fed up with up-downs, Burton began showing up to practice early to catch balls off throwing machines. When his hands showed improvement, he decided to put in work after practice, too.
Now, Snyder expects to see Burton working out solo when he looks out his office window.
“Early in the season, he put a few balls on the ground,” Snyder said. “He did not want to be that type of receiver, so he really worked at it and he has been committed to enhancing his performance level.”
Burton intends to stick with his practice routine until his college football career ends. Whatever it takes to avoid up-downs.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett