Burton already impacted UF

Florida quarterback Trey Burton runs upfield during spring football practice on March 22.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 12:21 a.m.

He’s been on campus for just three months and has participated in only 13 spring practices. So it’s too early to judge Trey Burton or predict what lies ahead for the true freshman Florida quarterback, though he is off to a promising start.

But even if he never throws a touchdown pass, never wins a game, never even takes a snap for the Gators, Burton has already made a sizable contribution to Urban Meyer’s program.

Burton helped save Florida’s No. 1 recruiting class when it could have fallen apart last December and January.

Like everyone else, Burton was shocked and stunned when he found out on Dec. 26 that Meyer was retiring for health reasons. Burton learned the news shortly after awakening from a nap early that evening in Venice.

“I turned off my phone while I was taking a nap to hang out with friends later on,” he said. “I had a whole bunch of messages. I was confused.

“I walked out and talked to my mom about it and she told me what happened. I called Coach Meyer. I think I might have called him right away. I’m pretty sure I did, within 24 hours.”

By the time Burton connected with his future coach, the news had changed. Meyer had decided to take an indefinite leave of absence instead of resigning, with the intention of possibly returning in time for the 2010 season.

Meyer confided in Burton, whom had committed to Meyer and the Gators during his sophomore year at Venice High School. Meyer told Burton he was going to be fine and would be coaching the Gators next season.

Burton quickly went to work spreading that message to the other Florida commitments, and to some of the top recruits in the nation who were close to committing (or had already quietly committed to the coaching staff).

“I had to make sure I knew what was going on first,” Burton said Wednesday. “I didn’t want to lose the class. I called (All-America defensive end) Ronald Powell, I called (cornerback) Joshua Shaw, I called as many people as I could and told them to spread the word too, coach is fine.

“He was fine. There was nothing wrong with him and he was going to be back. At first, they were confused. Once we started talking and everyone spread the word, we stayed together. We’re a pretty tight group.”

Even with the uncertainty surrounding Meyer’s health, the Gators not only held their class together, they made it better, landing some big-time recruits down the stretch, including Powell, Shaw and All-America defensive players Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley.

“I think we had an equal part in it,” Burton said. “It was not just one person that did it. I think we all did a good job of staying together.”

But it was Burton who got it started. He was the natural leader because he had been committed to Florida for so long and had developed a close relationship with Meyer and many of the top recruits UF was targeting. Over the past three years, Burton had been a regular at Florida home games, and he stressed to other recruits why he had chosen UF, and why they should strongly consider it, too.

Many of those recruits ended up signing with Florida.

Now, Burton and 10 other members of the recruiting class are already on campus and competing in spring drills. The rest of the class will come on board this summer.

“We’re very close. Really close,” Burton said. “Coach Meyer talks about family and that’s pretty much what we’re like. Every time one of them comes down that’s not here already, we always hang out with them. We’re a pretty tight group.”

It is also a very talented group. Several of those true freshmen, including Burton, have made an impact this spring.

Burton is the No. 2 quarterback, and he’s improved so much since the start of spring practice that Meyer is talking about Burton seeing playing time in a role similar to the one Tim Tebow had as a true freshman in 2006.

“He really has made a big jump,” quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler said. “Him being here has been a huge benefit for him and our offense, and to overall getting better and helping us to be ready (to compete) for the SEC championship.”

Burton’s awkward throwing motion made him an easy target for criticism on Internet messages boards the first week of spring practice. But as his game has advanced (and his motion has improved), the critics have faded away.

“(His throwing motion) has improved,” Loeffler said. “Is it there yet? No, not where we want it. We’re making some strides. It’s nice when you can have a young one you can start that process with. We’ve got a ways to go, but we’re getting there.”

Burton admits he has a long way to go, but he’s eager to put in the work. Like he did last December and January, Burton seems willing to do whatever it takes to help the Gators.

“I think I’ve done all right (this spring). But I have so much work to do,” he said. “I’m not fooling anybody out there. I have a whole bunch of work to do and I can’t wait until summer starts so I can get working on fundamentals and stuff like that.

“I think I’m doing OK. Coach (Loeffler) is doing an awesome, unbelievable job. He’s helped me out so much and made it a lot easier for me. That helps.”

Unlike starting quarterback John Brantley, Burton has been involved in full contact in scrimmages and will be again in Saturday’s Orange and Blue Game.

“I hope (I get hit),” he said. “I’ve got to get game speed. I don’t have a problem with it and the coaches don’t. Whatever helps the team.”

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