By Doug Fernandes, GateHouse Media Services
The scene last Sunday night at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. Minutes earlier, the Eagles had defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game.
The next stop, the final one: Minneapolis for a Super Bowl LII date with the New England Patriots.
Standing amid it all, Trey Burton, football player, suddenly morphed into Trey Burton, husband and father.
“Just remember going crazy for a second and then remembering they’re letting the family come on the field to celebrate,” he said. ” ‘Oh, man, where’s my family?’ I knew the tunnel they were coming out of so I ran to the tunnel and almost as I was getting to the tunnel my kids were running out to come meet me with my wife. A special moment for all of us there.”
At that precise moment, 26-year-old Trey Burton wasn’t the high-school all-state quarterback who led the Venice Indians to 27 victories over three seasons. He wasn’t the Florida Gators’ Swiss Army Knife, once scoring six touchdowns in a game against Kentucky, a Gator record that may never be broken.
Achieving an athletic dream doesn’t automatically trigger a memory rewind of how that dream got realized. It was a moment in time — with his wife, Yesenia, and three children by his side — Burton wanted to last forever.
“Those thoughts of how long it takes to get here or how hard it is or the road, all that is for after the Super Bowl,” he said. “Until you get to the NFL, (the Super Bowl) is always a dream. Getting to the NFL really gives you the opportunity to fulfill that dream. You got to get to the league first.”
This Sunday in Minneapolis, Burton becomes a member of a short but august group of Sarasota area football players, those who played in a Super Bowl. The most recent were Southeast High’s Brian Poole and Braden River High’s Sharrod Neasman, both of whom appeared last year for the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI.
“It’s pretty cool,” Burton said. “That list has a lot more to do than just the individual player. It’s a team deal, but it’s pretty cool.”
In four years, Trey Burton has become not just a team player for the Eagles, but a valuable and versatile one. And who could have imagined it?
For a while, not even Burton himself.
“I wasn’t really sure after my first couple of years,” he said. “You hear a lot of stories in the league about guys getting labeled at certain positions. One of the hardest labels to get off somebody is a special teams’ player. That was one of the things I really wanted to get off me, that I’m just a special teams’ player. And these last two years, I think I’ve been able to prove with the limited amount of snaps I’ve gotten that I can be valuable to somebody and I can be used.”
That he has. Playing tight end, Burton caught a career-high 37 passes in 2016. His five receiving touchdowns this season were a career best and most by an undrafted Eagle since 2002. His edge block enabled running back LeGarrette Blount to score Philly’s only touchdown in its 15-10 playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
“I come into the league undrafted and I’m thinking, ‘Man, I might not be good enough to play in the league. No one looked at me from a draft standpoint, so I may not be that good.’
“But my confidence is so high, I know I can be a very good player in the league and I’m ready to get my opportunity when it presents itself.”
That time will be this offseason. Last April the Eagles signed the restricted free agent to a one-year contract for $2.81 million. After the Super Bowl Burton becomes an unrestricted free agent, able to sign with anyone.
“I was excited to be back for one more year,” he said. “I didn’t know how the season was going to play out. My agent and I, we were going to bet on ourselves. And, hopefully, that pays off in a couple of months when free agency hits. Everything has gone the best it could possibly go and winning a Super Bowl would just take it to another level.”
Indeed, Burton’s world seems pretty close to perfect, but in a truly perfect world, his mom and dad would be among the Super Bowl crowd Sunday in Minneapolis.
“For sure, no doubt,” he said, “in a perfect world, yeah, he would be, my mom would be. My whole family, everybody that’s blood-related would be there.”
The part of Trey Burton’s world that isn’t perfect. He last saw his father, B.J. Burton, when he was 13. In December Burton visited his paternal grandparents, Larry and Ida Burton, in California.
Among the topics not discussed was B.J.’s whereabouts. He owes years of back child support. He reappeared briefly in the young lives of Trey and his brother Clay, one time showing up while the two played basketball at the YMCA. But he vanished before his sons could speak with him.
“I moved on from all of it,” he said. “I don’t hold any grudges. I don’t have any reason to talk to him or talk about him to anybody because he’s never been there. I don’t ever expect him to be back, just for the fact that I really don’t need him back. I’ve forgiven him and shown him grace and I believe everybody deserves all of that.”
Other male figures stepped into the void. His maternal grandfather, John McClintock, would make lunches for Trey and Clay, take them to school and pick them up. McClintock died when Trey was in high school. If Burton could have one dinner guest, it would be him.
His football coaches at Venice, John Peacock and Larry Shannon, pitched in as well. Even today, Peacock will use Burton as an example to other kids as someone who succeeded without a father in his life.
“Everybody has a story of how things don’t always work our perfectly,” Peacock said. “That’s how life is. It’s not like Trey Burton’s story is perfect. He had to overcome some things and everybody has a story and what you do with your story is up to you. It’s not up to anybody else.”
“I think the biggest thing they all did that separated me from a lot of people is how they held me accountable,” Burton said. “They didn’t let things slide. I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand stories about guys who had the most talent in the world, but their coaches let them do whatever the heck they wanted and they end up on the streets somewhere. They did a good job with that and did a good job of preparing me for the next level.”
That next level will be U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. A season of personal glory can end with team acclaim as well.
The only roadblock? The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots.
“The biggest thing is that they’ve been there,” Burton said. “They know what to expect. I think also it helps having 12 (Tom Brady) back there at quarterback. Absolutely unreal.
“We’re going to have to play our best game. But we’re going in there confident. Our coaches have had great schemes and game plans, and if (quarterback Nick) Foles plays like he has played … it’s going to be tough for anybody to beat us.”
Imagine that craziness. Trey Burton can.
Doug Fernandes is a staff writer with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Super Bowl LII
Who: New England vs. Philadelphia
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Former UF players in game: Running back Mike Gillislee with New England. Tight end Trey Burton and defensive back Jaylen Watkins with Philadelphia.