Chasing the Pro Football DREAM
Chase Burton stood on Ball State University’s indoor artificial turf facility spinning a football in the air with his right hand.
Patiently waiting his turn, Burton was finished with the strength and conditioning part of the Cardinals’ pro day. Over were his measurements, 40-yard dash, 3-cone drill, vertical jump and broad jump. It was time to throw some footballs.
Last Wednesday, Burton, who wrapped up a storied career at Franklin College in the fall, was part of 15 players auditioning for a pool of NFL scouts.
One of two quarterbacks at the pro day (St. Francis University’s Nick Ferrer also threw), Burton showed off his accuracy with out routes. He put vertical balls on point. Whether it be from the shot gun or simulating taking a ball from under center, Burton zinged balls toward NFL hopeful wide receivers.
‘Out here throwing it, I felt I threw balls on time,’ Burton said. ‘If I missed, it was away. It was a little different doing somebody else’s workout in front of scouts. That’s part of it. You could be on one team today and be traded tomorrow and learn a whole new playbook. It was fun to go and workout for scouts.’
In all, there were 11 NFL teams, including the home state Indianapolis Colts, and one Canadian Football League squad on hand to see recent college grads audition to see if they have what it takes to compete for a roster spot.
Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson have Heisman Trophy resum’s for NFL scouts while pundits rave about Josh Allen, Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen as the NFL Draft approaches April 26 through 28. Burton knows he isn’t a household name on the national scene. He’s a small-school guy with a big dream.
Coming from an NCAA Division III school, Burton certainly had the ‘wow’ factor with his college stats. Earning multiple All-American honors, Burton threw for 3,916 yards, 43 touchdowns and showed efficiency with only five interceptions in his senior year. He set the career mark for passing yards (11,579) and touchdowns (121) for the Grizzlies, two of many records set by the signal caller.
In high school, Burton helped lead Corydon Central football to its biggest moment as a program: the 2011 Class 3A regional championship. The record books at Corydon Central are littered with Burton’s name.
So, what is Burton’s sales pitch to potential professional teams?
‘I’ve come from a small 3A high school and played at a D3 college after transferring from playing baseball,’ he said. ‘My name isn’t out there like others, but, every time a coach has given me the ball, I go take the team. I’ve won a regional in high school, won three (Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference) championships and set records for passing yards and touchdowns at both schools I played at. One of the systems I played nine and the other was in the gun. I’m transparent. I can run both systems. When I play football, I get nervous before the game, but, after the first play, it all comes by nature. If an NFL team picked me up, once I got up to speed, the rest is ahead of me.’
As a junior in college, Burton started to field inquiries about playing professional football overseas.
After another big season this past fall, Corydon Central assistant coach Jason Timberlake asked Burton what he thought about chasing the pro dream.
‘We thought he had the ability to make a run for it,’ Timberlake said. ‘For the past couple of years, as Chase continued to develop, I noticed how consistent he has been the last three years in college. He hasn’t been up and down. He’s been consistent and put up great numbers.’
Timberlake had maintained a relationship with his former Indiana University coach Cam Cameron and reached out by sending videos of Burton playing at Franklin. Cameron has coached in the NFL at coordinator roles along with the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.
‘The person who filled the NFL idea in my head was Timberlake,’ Burton said. ‘I didn’t know if I should believe it or if he was blowing my head, but I got in touch with Cam Cameron in California to set up a workout with him. That got the wheels turning to get an agent and in contact with some teams and coaches.’
Workouts in San Diego, at Whitfield Athletix, led to Cameron suggesting Burton get an agent after positive reviews. Then came the pro day chance at Ball State.
‘This is fun to come out to a pro day, something I’ve never done before, just play football in front of NFL coaches,’ Burton said.
With an agent, Burton has another workout set up for April 14 at Decatur High School for a CFL team. Plan A for Burton is to make an NFL training camp, followed by plan B of the CFL or plan C, playing professional indoor football. Since adding an agent, Burton said he’s fielded some calls from pro teams. He’s also had offers to play in Germany.
Corydon Central head coach Aaron Humphrey and Timberlake made the trip to Muncie as well. Franklin teammate Deontez Alexander turned heads with his 40-yard dash time in the 4.3-second range and also caught balls from Burton.
‘We could both tell when he ran routes to the right, it was a little awkward because he’s always been to my left,’ Burton said.
Alexander caught 18 TDs last season.
‘Some of the routes I threw today were ones we threw at Franklin,’ Burton said. ‘When we were together, I threw the ball in the right spot, and he was on time. A kid from Manchester (Dakota Nelson) was here, so it was cool to not only throw to a guy that played with me, but also against me.’
Out of high school, Burton, a three-sport athlete then, initially signed to play baseball at Bellarmine University in Louisville. A minor surgery and coaching changes at Bellarmine, combined with being burned out with baseball, opened Burton with the idea of returning to football. Former high school teammate Justin Yates along with twins Lucas and Jeremiah Windell were finding success at Franklin on the gridiron, which drew Burton back to football.
‘The coaches welcomed me in with open arms,’ Burton said of the Franklin staff. ‘Looking at their roster, I saw an opportunity to play as a sophomore, so I grabbed the reins and never looked back.’
Humphrey, who was on staff at Corydon Central when Burton was the quarterback and has since returned as the head coach, watched with an eager and proud eye at Ball State.
‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I don’t think Corydon has ever had a kid with this opportunity,’ Humphrey said. ‘Chase was a winner in high school, leading us to sectional and regional titles as a quarterback. He’s had a lot of success at Franklin. He’s earned this opportunity.’
Posts on social media about Burton’s progress has prompted many to reach out in support.
‘There has always been support from Corydon even when I was playing back in the 2011 and 2012 seasons,’ Burton said. ‘We had a lot of support for the football program. Hopefully, people can see Corydon football produced a guy that got to try out for NFL scouts. I hope it gets younger kids excited to want to come out and play football. Corydon has a great head coach.’
Humphrey said he told college recruiters back then about Burton’s ability to make all the throws to be successful at the next level. Burton also spent time around the Panthers’ program, rubbing his knowledge and work ethic off on the current crop of players.
‘It’s great for our program because a lot of our kids remember watching Chase play,’ Humphrey said. ‘They see, if you go work hard, you may have this opportunity. Having him around the month of January was something positive for our program.’
‘It’s a great opportunity to not only represent a small town, but for a kid that has put in a lot of hard work, time and effort over the years,’ Timberlake said. ‘It’s very limited to the people who get this opportunity. Just to be (at pro day) today and this opportunity is not one many will ever get.’
‘I always had a drive and love for the game,’ Burton said.
Now, it’s waiting to see if an opportunity unfolds to continue throwing touchdown passes.