There was a decent amount of fanfare when Deante Burton made the choice to stay at home and play football for Kansas State.
Burton came to K-State at a time when Chris Harper was on his way out, playing his final year before heading to the NFL.
With Harper soon gone, the Wildcats were going to need another bigger-bodied receiver. Burton seemed to fit the mold — a tall, lanky target with some speed and athleticism at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds.
Even with a limited highlight reel out of Manhattan High — a primarily run-based team — Burton made enough plays and showed enough promise to rank as high as fourth in the state in the 2012 recruiting class, according to rivals.com.
Now heading into his third year on campus, the redshirt-sophomore has grown both mentally and physically, and he’s nearing the opportunity to crack the upper half of the Wildcats’ rotation at wide receiver.
“We may have six guys that can fit into the mix if they continue to make the progress that they have up to this point in time,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said last week. “Burton has really stepped up and proven that he can play. We have enough young guys to choose from right now, it’s that second echelon if you take away the returning starters.
“I think Burton has probably moved up to that level. If we put a depth chart out, he would be at the top of the list with (Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton).”
Burton appeared in nine games last season, but has yet to catch a pass.
In the spring, Burton said his goal is to become more consistent. Coming into K-State, Burton said he was physically prepared to play college football. But mentally, it’s been a work in progress and still is.
“We worked really hard at Manhattan High,” Burton said. “We have a great football coach in coach (Joe) Schartz — he’s a hard worker, he’s going to push you — the conditioning program there is pretty hard. Physically, I think I could come in and do pretty well, mentally it was just a new kind of schedule.
“You’re not living with your parents anymore, you’ve got your own time schedule, you’re in the dorms, you’re getting to classes, you don’t have someone there to hold your hand anymore. I think the biggest change for guys coming in is definitely mental.”
That’s part of what Burton said held him back from cracking the regular rotation last season, when he appeared to be nearing more playing time when the season started.
Burton said consistency was a common issue for him, going from a good week of practices to a bad week, and then back again.
“I think I was pretty close, I don’t think I was very consistent,” he said. “I think physically I came in and was ready to go, but mentally I had a little growing up to do. I still have room to grow.”
That’s where K-State’s veterans have come into play for Burton. He’s leaned on Sexton to learn how to be more consistent game in and game out. And Lockett has helped him with the mental aspects of the game.
Burton developed a friendship with former wide receivers coach Michael Smith during his recruitment, but current second-year WR coach Andre Coleman has played a role in developing him through high expectations.
“He’s a perfectionist,” Burton said. “You’ve got guys like Lockett and Curry, those guys who’ve pretty much mastered the craft at this level — he still pushes them, finds little things to tweak them, make them better. It’s definitely good to play for him.”
Burton said he still has to take everything one practice at a time this spring, and said the biggest improvements in his offseason workouts have come in ball skills.
Come April 26, Burton hopes his total improvements from the spring can be on display during the annual spring game, and he can start on a path to increased playing time when the season gets going in August.
“I want to show fans I can bring a deep threat to the offense,” he said. “Show that I’m a guy who can go up and get the ball, more of a vertical kind of guy.
“I think teams will be focused on Lockett. They’re going to be keyed on him and Jake (Waters’) connection. I kind of want to emerge as the receiver that will take a little pressure off of him and hopefully make some plays for us and earn my own respect in the Big 12.”