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Recruiting: Derek Burton
D-End prospect talks about OU and future

An innocent trip to the mailbox last summer turned out to be a potentially life-altering event for Derek Burton. No, the envelope he retrieved didn’t involve a million dollar sweepstakes notification, although it might have been difficult to convince him he hadn’t won the lottery by the time he finished reading the letter it did contain.

The letter was from The University of Oklahoma and it basically let Burton know the Sooners wanted to gain his future services. If the 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end from Muskogee High School so desired, OU was prepared to offer a full scholarship to play football in Norman.

It was the first time Burton had received such a letter from a major college, and he was understandably pumped. He had to tell someone about it, and fast.

“I read it and kind of stood there for a second and went and woke up my dad,” recalled Burton. “He was fast asleep and I woke him up and he said, ‘Good job boy,’ and then he rolled over and went back to sleep.

“He’s real humble, so I didn’t expect too much from him.”

Burton’s father may have viewed the letter from Oklahoma with less excitement because he’d been there before. Derek Burton Sr. was a three-year letterman on the offensive line at Oklahoma State from 1983-85. But it wasn’t disdain for the University of Oklahoma that led to his reaction.

In fact, shortly after his father regained his bearings, he had a long talk with his son about what it all meant.

“After I got that letter from OU, (Dad) told me he was going to let me make up my mind,” said young Burton. “He said he wasn’t going to try and influence me. He knew it was going to be my first big decision. He said, ‘You don’t need me messing it up for you.’”

To say the ties Derek Burton Sr. shares with Oklahoma State won’t be a factor in his son’s decision would be misleading. It’s clear the Cowboys have a die-hard supporter at the head of the Burton household. And it’s clear that allegiance has rubbed off on his son over the years, to some degree.

“I still have little OSU jerseys laying around here,” said Burton. “My sister wears them now. I don’t know if it counts for OU, but I have a white sweatshirt with Oklahoma in red on it. I don’t know if that counts. I’ve never seen my dad wear it though.”

Burton would like to restrict his decision to Oklahoma schools, if possible. But a player ranked as the No. 5 defensive end in the country by ESPN.com has options. Tennessee, Texas Tech and Kansas State are all schools Burton is considering, along with the Sooners and Cowboys.

And Burton feels he can’t ignore what some of those other schools have to offer.

“I’ve never even thought about anything like Tennessee,” said Burton. “To get that offer, it just kind of broadens your horizons. I think (recruiting services) are kind of assuming (I’ll stay in state). I’m saying the teams in state have an upper hand. What that means is that more than likely I’ll be in state.”

“I don’t necessarily believe (staying in state is a sure thing). As much as my parents want me to stay in the state, I’ll still go check out Tennessee and I might check out Texas Tech and Kansas State.”

Burton isn’t your prototypical defensive mauler. He’s a mix of athlete and philosopher. He’s as much at home talking about the psychology of offense and defense as he is talking about the schemes of offense and defense.

“I like playing defense a whole lot more than I like playing offense,” said Burton. “On defense, you just have to know what to do and go play. On offense, you have to know what to do, you have to make calls, but you have to make sure the person next to you is aware of what you’re saying to them and stuff like that.

“I guess you can say it’s more of a team effort when you’re on offense, but on defense you can work within that team and still be an individual.”

It’s that type of thinking that makes Burton a unique recruiting target. Coaches can’t give him the hard sell. He appears to be too sharp to fall for the standard sales pitch used by most college recruiters.

“I like coaches that are mellow,” said Burton when talking about what impresses him about college recruiters. “I like coaches who are going to tell me the truth and not rant and rave about how good I am and how I’m going to come in and start right away or anything like that. I know that’s more than likely not going to just happen. I know I’m going to have to earn a spot.”

Burton also cites one coach who has met and exceeded those criteria early in the recruiting process.

“The defensive coach from Oklahoma — Jackie Shipp — he’s a great guy. Half the time, he’s not even talking about football and that’s cool,” said Burton.

Burton’s father has also become more and more comfortable with Shipp as he has gone through the recruiting process with his son. But that wasn’t always the case. That’s because Shipp and Burton Sr. have a history. They’ve battled against each other on the field. Burton Sr. always had his hands full trying to keep Shipp off his quarterbacks and running backs each fall when the two were playing for their respective alma maters at OU and OSU.

“He knew Coach Shipp,” said Burton Jr., recalling the surprising meeting between his father and Shipp when they traveled to Norman last spring for OU’s Red-White Game. “They played against each other. He had the best time of his life up at OU. That was kind of weird. He just went up there and was talking and met some old people that he used to play against. It was just a bunch of old people sitting around talking.”

OK, not the most flattering way for his father and Shipp to be mentioned, but a memorable reunion nonetheless.

Apparently that type of talk is just fine between the Burtons and Shipp. Burton Jr. said that’s just the way things go in a relationship built out of Bedlam embers.

As for the recruiting battles which lie ahead, Burton will take his time making a decision. But he knows the Sooners and Cowboys will both be major players until the end.

As for Burton’s heartstrings, he can’t ignore the pull Oklahoma State will hold on his emotions. Sons often do what they can to make their father’s faces light up with pride.

“I know it would make him proud if I went to Oklahoma State. Just to be where he played and everything, but he hasn’t said anything to me like, ‘You really need to consider going to Oklahoma State,’” said Burton Jr.

In fact, Burton Sr. has done everything he can to help his son make the most informed decision possible. Even if that decision isn’t following in his footsteps.

“He’s letting me do my own things,” said Burton Jr. “He’s taking me to games because without him I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. He’s not telling me I need to go to OSU.”

Until Burton starts scheduling official visits following the completion of his senior season, he does have an idea or two about continuing to build the suspense.

“I have a shirt from Oklahoma State and I used to wear it under my pads and everyone was like, ‘Yeah, he’s going to Oklahoma State.’ So I tried to find something else to wear,” said Burton.

When told he should start alternating OSU and OU jerseys under his uniform during games to keep people guessing, Burton responded, “Yeah. That’s what I should do.”

Burton does enjoy the speculation that surrounds his recruitment and eventual college selection. And he tries to have as much fun with it as he can.

“I just tell people I’m going to Bacone, that little college over there that plays on our field,” Burton said. “I tell them I’m going to Bacone and some of them laugh, but some people think I’m serious.”

Until Burton makes the final decision, it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll end up. Will Shipp’s dynamic personality win the day for Oklahoma?
Could Burton’s father, the former Oklahoma State offensive lineman, step up and see that the orange and black bloodline continues?
Or could another national power make a lasting impression to trump all others.

“That’s not fair to say that I’m just going to give (OU and OSU) the only shot because they’re in state. If I went to Tennessee for a visit and that felt the best about them, then that’s where I’m going to go.”

As February’s national signing day inches closer, Derek Burton’s decision is certain to be one recruiting drama worth following to the very end.

(Editor's Note: Sooner Spectator features an indepth story on a prep player OU is recruiting in every issue.)