Grizzlies QB looks to be even stronger after great debut

In his first season as a starter, Franklin College quarterback Chase Burton made quite the impression.

Burton was named the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year after completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 3,850 yards for the Grizzlies (8-3) last season.

He had 38 touchdown passes with just seven interceptions.

So what can the 6-2, 195-pound junior do for an encore? Quite a bit, Franklin College coach Mike Leonard is convinced.

“Chase had a really good year as a first-year starter, and our goal is to help him improve,” said Leonard, whose team opens the season against visiting Thomas More on Sept. 3.

“Some players just make everyone else around them better. The great players do that,” Leonard said. “That’s what we want to help Chase do, not only help him improve his game but consequently make everyone else him improve around him as well.”

Leonard said Burton has worked extremely hard in the weight room, and it shows.

“He’s just gotten bigger and stronger,” Leonard said. “I’m thinking he might become not only a passing threat but have the ability to run the football. In today’s world of offense, any time the guy taking a shotgun snap from center can run as well as throw, it’s kind of like the wildcat offense, you just have an extra blocker when your quarterback can run.

“Most offenses are set up for the quarterback to hand off to the running back, he’s lost a blocker because the quarterback can’t block. With him being able to run the football this year even better than last, that will be the improvement we’re looking to make in our offense.”

The Grizzlies’ new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Craig Yeast, said his approach to working with Burton was a slightly different dynamic than in the past. Yeast said he has focused on footwork, ball placement and pocket presence.

“I’ve just tried to give him a more systematic approach to running the offense,” said Yeast, a receiver who played three seasons in the NFL before heading to the Canadian Football League. “I think it’s worked out well. I think his fundamentals have definitely improved.

“That’s not because of me, that’s because of his work ethic. I think his handle and command of the offense is certainly a strong suit.”

Burton rushed for 140 yards on 61 carries with a team-high eight touchdowns last season.

“I like to think that I can run the ball if I need to, but I like to throw the ball a lot more,” said Burton, who was named HCAC Offensive Player of the Week five times last season.

Burton said there are designed runs where 70 percent of the time he’ll hand the ball off.

“If I need to I can pick up a couple of yards when I can,” Burton said. “I’ll show signs of my athleticism whenever a play breaks down or if the blitz is coming free. If a D-lineman is coming off the edge, hopefully I can make a move, get outside the pocket and dump the ball down and get it to one of our more athletic guys.”

Yeast said Burton’s athleticism has been overlooked in the past.

“He’s a pretty athletic quarterback, and he’s a pretty good-sized young man,” Yeast said. “Hopefully, we’ll incorporate him more into the run game, not as a featured type of guy but as a change of pace. Give him a few opportunities to make plays with his legs.

“We know he can make plays with his arm. Maybe it will give the defense one more thing to worry about.”

Last season, Burton said the team had so many athletes in the backfield and on the outside that he wasn’t as athletic as he can be.

Burton said spring football was a good way to see what Yeast and new offensive line coach/head strength coach Dan Watson want to achieve offensively.

“It gave us a chance to know their coaching styles and what they expect of us,” Burton said. “We’re not changing too much. We’re going to to mix in the run and pass more a little bit.”

The terminology changes might be the biggest adjustment, he said. Burton said the players have a lot of faith in what the coaches want to do offensively.

“I think guys are going to buy in,” Burton said. “We’re got new coaches, but we’re returning a lot of guys. The chemistry is there between the guys. We just have to get the chemistry between the coaches and the guys. I think that will come with time.”

Individual goals aren’t a major concern for Burton. His major goals are to help the Grizzlies win their first two nonconference games after dropping both his first two seasons and win its opening playoff game after losing in the first round two consecutive seasons.

“If there are any individual goals I have for myself, it’s to limit turnovers and take what the defense gives me,” he said. “I don’t want to try to force things that aren’t there just because I have confidence in myself. I just need to trust the offense.”

The Burton File

Name: Chase Burton

Year: Junior

Position: Quarterback

Size: 6-foot-2, 195 pounds

High school: Corydon Central (2014)

2015 highlights: Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year; five-time HCAC Offensive Player of the Week; threw for 3,850 yards, 36 touchdowns and only seven interceptions; had a team-high eight rushing touchdowns

Mark Ambrogi is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.