Chase Burton is well-versed not only in the Franklin College football team’s playbook, but also its history.
When he takes his first snap in today’s season-opener against visiting Illinois Wesleyan, he knows the spotlight — for better or for worse — will be on the quarterback.
That’s just the way it is in a program nationally renowned for producing top-flight passers.
Story continues below gallery
“There’s been a lot of great quarterbacks come to Franklin. It seems like every year the guy that steps in takes the role has a great year,” said Burton, who is now in that role.
A sophomore from Corydon Central High School, Burton fills the graduation of void of Grant Welp, last year’s Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Offensive MVP and the latest in a string of league passing leaders.
Before Welp, there was Jonny West. Before West, there was Kyle Ray. Before Ray, there was Chad Rupp.
Each were conference MVPs, and each ranked among NCAA Division III’s national passing leaders.
Burton is well-aware of the quarterback tradition. But he isn’t trying to follow in anyone’s footsteps.
He’s simply trying to help the Grizzlies win games.
“The way our offense is built, I don’t have to come in and do a whole bunch,” said Burton, who saw limited reserve action last season. “We have great receivers, and they can make plays. We have a great backs. We’ve got a great offensive line.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in all those guys, so I don’t have to step in and try to do everything on my own. I’ve got a lot of guys around me that are going to make plays and make my job a lot easier.”
A three-year starting quarterback at Corydon, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Burton was instrumental in leading the Panthers’ to their first-ever sectional and regional championships. He was also a four-year varsity baseball player and a three-year varsity basketball player, a powerful testament to his versatile athletic skills.
But athleticism wasn’t the chief quality that put him on the Grizzlies’ recruiting radar.
“You look for their success in high school. Are they a winner? Do they hate to lose?” Franklin coach Mike Leonard said. “That competitive edge is probably the most important factor.”
Burton met and exceeded all the criteria. He won in high school, hates to lose and is competitive almost to a fault.
But Leonard is confident of refining the latter.
“He’s a little bit hard on himself when things aren’t going well. That’s one of the things I want to try to mentor him through, but he’s a winner,” Leonard said. “He can make good decisions, and he throws a really nice pass.
“The biggest thing I’m going to be working on is his ability not to be his own worst enemy when things aren’t going great.”
Burton attributes the tendency to his desire to do one thing, and one thing only: win football games.
“Going back to high school, I was always part of a winning program, so I just want to keep that going at Franklin,” he said. “I don’t really get down on myself. I don’t expect perfection, but I don’t accept anything less.
“So I expect a lot of out myself, as I expect a lot out of my teammates. And they expect a lot out of me. It goes hand-in-hand.”
Ranked No. 23 in the Lindy’s Sports and the Sporting News preseason Division III polls, the Grizzlies enter today’s opener with 16 returning starters — six on offense, eight on defense and two special teams players.
They are looking not only to avenge last year’s season-opening nonconference loss at Illinois Wesleyan, but to lay the foundation for a successful defense of the HCAC championship.
Franklin has won five straight league titles, and seven of the past eight, and was voted the preseason favorite by a vote of league coaches to repeat as champions.
“Everybody’s super-excited,” Burton said. “We’ve got a chance to be the first team to win six straight HCAC titles. We want to get another shot at the (national) playoffs.
“And we’re ready to play an actual game.
“We’ve gone about three weeks just hitting each other, and I know the guys are ready just to line up against another team and be able to play football and not beat up on our own guys.”
What: Illinois Wesleyan at Franklin College
When: 1:30 p.m. today
Special event: Service Tribute Day; local statewide military personnel, police officers and firefighters will be honored during a pregame ceremony.