“At the beginning of the season, some guys were almost surprised to be winning,” said the Sacramento, Calif., native of Ole Miss' 3-1 start. “Then we were up against (Texas) A&M, and you could kind of sense on the sideline guys were like ‘wow, we’re actually really winning this game.’ I didn’t think they were really used to it. Now it’s almost expected.”
The 6-foot-6, 289-pound right tackle said the close loss showed the Rebels they could probably win some big games if they kept the faith and kept working. The Rebels led Texas A&M 27-17 with under seven minutes to go in the game. But from that point on, everything went the Aggies’ way, and the visitors won 30-27.
Since then, however, there are two straight Southeastern Conference wins to Ole Miss’ credit at home against Auburn (41-20) and Arkansas (30-27). The Rebels do believe they know how to win and now believe they should win.
“That last drive of the Arkansas game, everyone (on the team) was saying ‘they can’t stop us’ and ‘it’s our game’ and that kind of thing. Let’s go down there and get a touchdown or a field goal to win it,” Burton said.
And that’s what they did as Bryson Rose connected on his third field goal of the second half, a 31-yarder to claim victory over the Razorbacks against what Burton feels is one of the top defensive lines in the country.
“I thought they were one of the best defensive fronts we’ve played against,” he said. “I put them and Alabama as the top two defensive fronts. They were also doing a lot of twisting and different stunts during the run game instead of just on third down. Most teams just do that on third down.”
Burton signed with Ole Miss last December during the junior college signing period. He’s eight games into his junior season now as the Rebels stand 5-3 overall and 2-2 in SEC play. As for his own play on the field, he believes he’s making some good progress.
“I kind of came in not really knowing what to expect,” he said. “I really improved from spring to (August) camp. But then I got kind of lackadaisical the first few games. Texas was a big wakeup call for me. Their two top defensive ends, two of the best in the country, made me really think how hard I’m working out here at practice.”
And his progress, as has the team’s overall, has been noticeable since the loss to Texas on Sept. 15, the third game of the 2012 season.
“Just giving more effort and more attention to detail,” Burton mentioned as some keys to his improved play. “I need to work on some technique things. I’ve been getting after in the weight room and trying to keep my weight on, because I do need to gain a little bit more weight.”
Being here for spring practice was important for Burton. It allowed him to understand the program better and to move his game up to compete at this level.
“It really helped because in the spring, looking back at the tape, I was a little timid,” he said. “If you watch the games, I feel like I’m playing better. Coach (Paul) Jackson did a great job preparing the offensive line to play in this fast-paced offense and not get tired.”
Burton said the will to do better than the program had the past couple of years – when he wasn’t here, of course – has helped keep the team focused and driven.
“I think we really took it personal. We were ranked last in the SEC in the preseason,” Burton said. “Coach (Hugh Freeze) showed us that. I took that (ranking) as disrespect. I think a lot of other guys did. We’re really working to be one of the better offensive lines. (Quarterback) Bo (Wallace) has been doing a lot better job, calling out the correct protections. It just took some time to build some chemistry.”
Burton said they also believe in Freeze.
“I think it’s how hard he pushes us. If you expect great things out of someone, that’s what’s going to happen,” Burton said. “I think he expects us all to perform and do our best. I’ve always really respected Coach Freeze, and that’s part of the reason I came here.”
Offensive line coach Matt Luke said Burton has been a pleasure to coach and also to watch his improvement as a valuable offensive lineman.
“He’s a great player,” said Luke, himself a former offensive lineman at Ole Miss. “He’s really fast. He’s added some muscle from last year. I think the (Ole Miss) coaches are giving us a good game plan on how to help him improve.”
Burton said the only way to handle, say, a player like Georgia’s stellar outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is to play within himself and to focus.
“I have to be patient and not lunge at him,” Burton said. “I think I have pretty good feet to stay with him. My problem’s when I lunge at him and let him get me off balance.”
Luke said Burton has been learning aspects like that since day one and has been a big part of the success the Rebels have enjoyed offensively so far this season.
“I’m thankful we got him,” Luke said. “We got him late in December. He’s played about every snap for us. Knock on wood he’s stayed healthy. And he’s continued to get better.
“His strengths are his athleticism, his endurance. He’s still got to work on getting stronger and better in the run game. He’s done well in pass pro and in the athletic things we’ve asked him to do. So I’ve been pleased with him. He’s not an outspoken guy. He’s steady and goes about his business and leads by example.”