The career leader in passing yards at Franklin College doesn’t consider himself a big man on campus.

It’s not the way senior quarterback Chase Burton was raised.

“My dad (Kevin) always taught me to stay humble, whether I’m the starting quarterback or the fourth-string quarterback,” said Burton, whose 11,299 yards and 120 touchdowns are standards in a program that for generations has taken pride in its ability to successfully throw the football.

“It’s obviously nice to know that people might look up to me or think of me as a good quarterback. I try not to get a big head or gloat because there are other moving parts to it.”

On Saturday, the Grizzlies, Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference champions for the eighth time in coach Mike Leonard’s tenure, play at No. 15 Wartburg College in the opening round of the Division III playoffs.

It is the first meeting between the programs.

Wartburg College is located in Waverly, Iowa — a town of just under 10,000 residents in the northeastern part of the state.

It’s there that Burton will attempt to guide Franklin College’s high-powered spread offense against an undefeated Knights squad giving up an average of 15.2 points a game. Wartburg has limited six of its 10 opponents to 16 or fewer points.

This season, the Corydon Central graduate has passed for 3,636 yards and 42 touchdowns. He’s thrown only four interceptions, with his last pick coming in a 56-26 road victory against Earlham on Oct. 7.

Burton’s gaudy numbers contrast his personality.

“Chase doesn’t like limelight,” Leonard said. “He doesn’t like to be in front of the group at all to speak, and players make fun of him for it. They’re like, ‘Speech, speech,’ and that’s not him.

“He’s hard on himself and hard on a teammate at times that maybe isn’t catching the ball like they should. But Chase is calm within the game. Not real high, not real low, and I think that’s to his advantage.”

Burton backed up Grant Welp his freshman season before bursting onto the scene in 2015 under the guidance of then-assistant coach Jonny West. The former Grizzlies quarterback, whose records Burton is now eclipsing, then left to be offensive coordinator at Hanover.

During the past two seasons, Burton has been instructed by Grizzlies offensive coordinator Craig Yeast.

The development Burton made while tutored by both men has paid dividends.

Leonard remembers the quarterback’s initial performances playing for the gold (junior varsity) team his freshman season. Burton’s technique required tweaking after primarily handing the ball off in the run-oriented offense at Corydon Central.

Burton’s footwork and presence in the pocket needed refinement the first year at Franklin College. He had a habit of scrambling around while holding the football in one hand.

Leonard, who liked the quarterback’s athleticism, never thought the same young man would now be over 11,000 yards throwing the ball.

“It’s been shocking,” Leonard said. “His sophomore year he thrived under Jonny’s tutelage and has worked well the last two years with coach Yeast. They have a good relationship and kind of read each other’s mind.

“I give Chase great credit, because after his sophomore year I’m sure there was some, ‘Hmmm, what do I do now?’ ”

What Burton has done is not skip a beat. He’s been named HCAC Offensive Player of the Week 11 times in his career.

He’s now ready for the challenge of trying to knock off an undefeated team a 10-hour bus ride from campus.

“It’s a little out of the ordinary for us, because whenever we travel we’re only going a couple hours away,” Burton said. “We don’t have a lot of experience with long road trips, but we’ve got to treat it like any other game and hopefully take care of business.”

If you go

NCAA Division III playoffs

Franklin College (8-2) at Wartburg College (10-0)

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. Eastern

Where: Walston-Hoover Stadium in Waverly, Iowa

By the numbers

CHASE TO GREATNESS

A year-by-year look at the record-setting career of Franklin College quarterback Chase Burton:

Year;Comp;Att;Yds;TD;INT

2014;4;6;52;0;1

2015;284;434;3,850;36;7

2016;287;420;3,761;42;8

2017;242;351;3,636;42;4

Totals;817;1,211;11,299;120;20

Author photo
Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.