A Star is Born

GAINESVILLE – Say hello to Accidental Hero, the newest Baby Gator star, four games old, six more touchdowns to the good and the unlikeliest of catalysts for an offensive renaissance.

Dare I say it, but Trey Burton was beyond Tebowesque Saturday night. He not only set a school record, but erased Tim Tebow from the Florida records books.

Even Tim didn’t make a splash of this proportion in his first season, however. Tebow only scored one touchdown in his first four games. Burton has eight. And while Tebow accounted for seven touchdowns against South Carolina once as a sophomore, he only actually scored five on the ground.

Wearing a brand new number 8 jersey – just think what he could have done if he hadn’t worn that unlucky No. 13 for the first three games – Burton rewrote the school record books and became just the fourth SEC player to score six times in a game.

In Florida’s 466-yard explosion, which led to a 48-14 win over Kentucky, Burton blazed his way on to the national scene with five touchdowns in five carries and scored one pass reception, causing Urban Meyer to call his performance “fantastic!” And although the Gator coaching staff wasn’t even trying to feed him the ball that many times – it just worked out that way—he did say that Meyer told him he’d get more snaps at quarterback against Kentucky.

It would be nice to say that the Florida coaches saw this kind of potential when they began recruiting Burton as a sophomore at Venice high school, but the truth is that they didn’t know.

“I thought he was a good player when we recruited him,” said Meyer, “… a really good player. We had no idea what we had until we figured it out in training camp. He has versatility, intelligence, competitiveness – those are things you really don’t know until you get your hands on a player. And he really did well.”

Burton was supposed to start the season as a backup Wildcat quarterback to John Brantley. Instead, he learned to play four positions, got on special teams and began working his way up the depth chart. His coaches began giving him more because, as Meyer said, he was willing and a quick study “and you only had to tell him one time.” Now his head coach worries that he Burton is “doing too much.”

Certainly Kentucky coach Joker Phillips would agree with that, because every time he looked up this No. 8 guy was in the end zone again. (Including cornerback Jeremy Brown, who also wears No. 8 and intercepted Mike Hartline’s pass, turning it into a Pick Six.)

Chances are Burton will stick with that number. Why did he change to No. 8? Meyer joked that it was because he was going to score eight touchdowns Saturday night, but quickly cautioned that was a joke. Burton and Dee Finley wore No. 13 and since they were both on the kickoff coverage team one of them had to change.

Burton said Finley wanted to keep 13, so he agreed to switch. But what about No. 8 also belonging to Brown?

“I always told Jeremy I wanted to be just like him when I grow up,” Burton kidded. “Now I actually can be.”

What about the number 6, as in six touchdowns?

“I’m blessed,” said Burton. “The Lord has blessed me and I’m real thankful for it.”

You only have to look at the scoring summary to realize how special this historic night really was—Burton scored every one of his team’s offensive touchdowns.

Like the basketball player in a groove, he just couldn’t miss, or be stopped and Burton admitted he almost felt “ridiculous” that things were going so well.

“It was like a dream,” he said.

Yet he had to be careful about his post-touchdown antics, because “I was warned — I tend to get a little excited.”

Burton realizes he didn’t carry the team on his shoulders and that this team doesn’t belong to him — in a rare moment there were two Florida quarterbacks holding interviews at the same time — but the arrival of Burton as a “weapon” now becomes a factor that Alabama defensive coordinator KIrby Smart must deal with in the red zone.

Although his touchdowns didn’t come easy or from close in and he exhibited power running par excellence, Burton would be the first to tell us that most of the hard work between the two 10-yard lines was done by others — especially his running backs and quarterback Johnny Brantley, who had his finest night as a Gator with 248 yards passing. Given this role as the — ahem!  — Tebow-like short yardage specialists, however, Burton did it as well as anybody could have.

And if any of you out there are even remotely thinking about the words “quarterback controversy” or that Burton’s emergence could create a problem between them, forget it. “I think he’s (Brantley) real happy for me,” Burton said. “He knows I’m his biggest fan. That I’m there for him no matter what he needs. And we’re really good friends.”

In fact, Brantley was the first one to hug Burton on his first touchdown of the night.

Burton made it a point to say others “made it easy for me, because they got it all the way down there and all I had to do was run five or six yards.” (Burton did account for 40 yards rushing himself.)

At the same time, even though he broke Tebow’s record, the young freshmen in no way compares himself to that player he called “the greatest in the history of the game.”

Out of respect for No. 15, nobody really felt comfortable using the “T” word in the Gator post-game interviews. The closest Addazio came was to say, “you saw flashes of old there — his power, his running ….”

Burton even keeps himself humble by making fun of his less-than-picture-perfect passes, something he gets chided about by his quarterback coach Scot Loeffler. Had pointed out that he gotten that pass to Omarius HInes instead of throwing it short — “I messed up” — his receiver would have gotten the score.

Contrary to what most people think and said and wrote, Burton didn’t always do it out of the Wildcat. Sometimes he was on the wing. And once when he was in the Wildcat, Brantley was lined up as a wide receiver. Meyer pointed out that it wasn’t always the Wildcat and “was mostly out of our base formation.”

Don’t blame Meyer and Offensive Coordinator Steve Addazio if they feel a bit blessed as well, because their offense needed to get off the schneid, and Burton helped that happen.

This offensive rebirth could not have come at a better time, just as the Gators are about to travel to Tuscaloosa to face unbeaten, No. 1 ranked Alabama.

Burton was one of the main contributors to the 100th victory of Meyer, along with Brantley, wide receivers Deonte Thompson, Carl Moore and Andre Debose and a ball-hawking defense that picked off two more interceptions for a nation-leading dozen this season.

“He’s just really a tough kid,” Addazio said of Burton. “He is a true football player. He can play split out as a wide receiver, he can play as a fullback, he can play as a quarterback – he showed you that tonight. He’s a powerful runner, he’s got great hands as a receiver, he can block you. He’s a weapon and he’s going to continue to get better and better and better.”

This true freshman from Venice, who played his way out of depth chart anonymity as an unheralded recruit in a class of superstars, put on one of the greatest displays of offensive firepower in Florida Field history Saturday night.

I could almost make a case for this being the single most impressive overall performance ever at Florida Field -– especially if it had been in a crucial game that was close. For certain, though, Burton helped thaw out the Gator offense which started out so poorly against Miami of Ohio that Meyer called it “Bozo the Clown.”

Burton was already the Jack-of-all-Trades and now he is the master of them –- runner, receiver, passer and special teams player. He has now has 20 officials “touches” – catches, passes or carries, not counting the regular snaps –- and eight touchdowns. On Saturday he carried five times for five scores on runs of 11, 10, 9, 3 and 7 yards. How’s that for an average? He also has two tackles on the kickoff coverage team this season.

It was a memorable night for Burton and Gator fans, but unfortunately Trey’s family couldn’t be there. They were in Indiana at another famous school.

“My mom and my brother and my uncle couldn’t come,” Trey said, “because they’re at Notre Dame right now for my brother’s official visit. If they were here it would probably make this the best (game) I’ve ever had.”

They did speak by phone, however, and Trey said his mother “was real excited.” Her son made it a point to tell his mom that he was “doing it for her and my whole family — they’ve done it for me for 18 years and now I get to do my job.”

Clay Burton is a senior defensive end/tight end for Venice.

But Trey said he wasn’t lamenting that they had to be gone, because “they’ve got to do what’s right with my brother -– I love him, and you gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

That’s OK, Trey, they’ll have plenty of chances to read about it and watch those six touchdowns over and over and over on Sports Center. And besides, those plays will be going into the archives for all-time.