When Deante Burton starred as a wide receiver at Manhattan High, it wasn’t always because he was catching passes.
The Indians found creative ways to use Burton on the field, whether it was jet sweeps or reverses, or kick and punt returns.
So when Burton came to Kansas State in 2012, he had a lot to learn about playing the wide receiver position.
“It was a little strange, a little different,” Burton said. “I definitely think it was an adjustment.”
When Andre Coleman came in as wide receivers coach prior to last season, replacing Michael Smith, he was hard on Burton immediately.
Last year, Burton admitted it was a coaching style he wasn’t completely used to. MHS coach Joe Schartz could be hard on him, he said, but Smith’s personality contrasted that.
“His style of coaching, he’s going to get the best out of you,” he said. “It was an adjustment to make as far as my consistency. He tells me all the time ‘I’m not going to be hard on you unless I see something great in you, see potential in you.’ He pushes me to be the best I can be.”
Coleman said the learning curve for Burton didn’t come as much from going high school to college as much as it was just learning his coaching style. Coleman, who played five seasons in the NFL, said he’s tried to instill the teachings he learned from his professional career on his wide receivers.
Some of that is simple. In high school, you can be a great athlete, run fast or have great hands, and be successful. The higher level you go, the harder it gets.
Coleman said for Burton, it’s been learning how to use all of his skills and adjusting.
“He’s just a lot more confident in what he’s doing,” he said. “I think last year he was kind of like a deer in the headlights when he got in a live situation. It’s a lot faster, the tempo’s faster, the guys are bigger, the guys are stronger — I don’t know if he was quite ready for it. Now he gets it and he understands it and he’s playing well right now.”
Burton will likely be in a mix of several players to fill the third and fourth regular spots in the wide receiver rotation on the field. Tyler Lockett has the top spot locked up, while Curry Sexton is expected to fill the No. 2 role.
Coleman said the guys competing for those spots have embraced their roles and have performed well in practices. But the true proving point, he said, will come on gameday, when they’re thrown into the fire and expected to perform at a high level.
Burton said his goal is to do whatever it takes to help the team. If he can crack the depth chart, he said he wants to do whatever he can to take pressure off of Lockett and Sexton.
He said things have gotten easier and slowed down as he’s gotten a better understanding of the playbook.
“Once I figured out the playbook at a level that I can compete at a fast pace at full speed, now it’s about running my routes in a way that doesn’t slow me down that I can mix it up and make it hard for defensive backs to cover me,” he said. “And then take a little pressure off of Tyler and Curry.”
Burton tried to improve his game throughout the offseason by surrounding himself around quarterback Jake Waters. Now that Waters is the man, with no one to split time with, Burton thinks the team will see a quarterback that’s even more confident with his ability than he was a year ago.
Besides just practicing with him, Burton said he’s tried to learn from the senior.
“He’s a guy that takes a lot of pride in his throwing ability, a lot of pride in his knowing what to do,” he said. “Having a guy like that back there is definitely exciting. It’s what you always want as a receiver, a guy that’s going to throw you the ball.”
The current competition among wide receivers is what Burton said is driving him to be better. But he’s trying to separate himself by being a little different than the other options.
On a team full of speedy, smaller wideouts, Burton is 6-foot-2, and plays his game based on his strength and leaping ability.
“You love to have a bigger, physical receiver like Deante,” Coleman said. “Most of the corners in the Big 12 are 180, 185 pounds. When you have a big receiver that can run, run good routes, has decent speed and good strength, it creates a mismatch. We want to see that.”