SALT LAKE CITY — On the surface, it's hard to understand why opposing players are so afraid of Utah defensive back Brandon Burton.
He's a personable young man with a quick smile, a guy who's almost as comfortable in the kitchen over a hot stove as he is chasing receivers on the football field.
But on the field, Utah opponents are definitely scared of the junior cornerback from Houston. That's why we haven't heard that much about Burton, one of the Utes' most heralded players, through the first half of the season — because opponents are avoiding throwing the ball in his direction.
"Brandon doesn't get a lot of action most weeks because people won't go at him," said Ute coach Kyle Whittingham. "You understand how good he is because of the way other teams avoid him. When he does get his opportunity, he makes the most of them."
Burton can only chuckle about his lack of action so far this year.
"Man, it gets frustrating," he says. "You can stand out there and just kind of be in the game sometimes. You're just there and you want to make plays for the team. But when I get frustrated, I just realize there's something more I can do for the team."
Burton says he tries to make an impact every week, which is hard when quarterbacks look the other way. He said he's even tried to "bait" a couple of throws, which is what he did on the interception he got at Iowa State and almost returned for a touchdown.
He also said his lack of action is deceiving because of how well the rest of the Ute defense is playing and keeping quarterbacks from throwing — period.
"I've noticed on film that quarterbacks are pulling the ball down a lot and that's why we have a lot of TFLs (tackles for loss). We're getting into the backfield a lot. You've got to look at the passer rating and yards given up — we're giving up a little more than 100 a game, which is great. The linemen are getting back there and making plays."
And it's not like Burton's numbers are that bad this year. He's eighth on the team in tackles with 25, including 17 unassisted. He has four pass breakups and a quarterback hurry and is one of four players on the team with an interception.
Whittingham, defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and cornerbacks coach Jay Hill all refer to Burton as a "lockdown corner." Whittingham, a longtime defensive coordinator, says the two most important things a coordinator covets are an edge pass rusher and a lockdown corner.
In explaining what makes Burton a lockdown corner Hill says: "He's smart, he's always in good coverage, he doesn't get balls up the field and when they do try to throw at him, the completion percentage is extremely low. He's consistently in good position to make good plays on the ball.
"Another definition of a lockdown guy is, you don't get teams throwing at him much. It's all part of the gig — when you're that good, people don't throw at you."
Burton says you need to have three things to be a lockdown corner.
"You've got to have good feet, good hands and a short memory," he says. "If you ever get beat, you have to come back the next time and begin again."
For Saturday's game at Air Force, Burton may not be getting a lot of action against the option-running Falcons, but he has to be ready for the surprise passes. And he'll get plenty of looks the rest of the year as the Utes' schedule gets tougher.
"These last five games, he's going to have to play well," said Whittingham. "Someone's going to throw at him. He's got to stay ready for that."
"Eventually he'll get some looks and they'll go at him," adds Sitake. "We've got to make sure we keep on top of it. The good thing is, in practice he goes up against some really good receivers. He's always ready."
So what's this about Burton enjoying the kitchen?
Besides being a likely all-league cornerback, Burton is probably an all-league cook as well.
"I love to cook," he says. "Cooking has always been a passion of mine. I remember on Thanksgiving Day, I'd be up early with my grandma and mom, trying to learn, like the different spices to use, and it always tasted wonderful. So I started to try to learn how for myself. Ever since I was little, I've always had an interest."16 comments on this story
Burton says he's never cooked for 100 people before, like, say, the entire Utah football team. But he has cooked for small groups and says pasta is his specialty. Chicken Parmesan and Fettuccine Alfredo are two of his favorites.
With another season to play after this, the talented Burton could find himself joining former teammates such as Sean Smith and Brice McCain in the NFL. If that doesn't work out, perhaps he can join Emeril on the Food Network.
Utes on the air
No. 8 Utah (7-0, 4-0 MWC) at Air Force (5-3, 3-2)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
Falcon Stadium, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo.
TV: CBS C
Radio: 700 AM