By Jenna Perlman
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Talk about a fitting play to illustrate the season.
Midway through the first quarter of Saturday’s 37-7 loss to rival and second-ranked Florida State, senior wide receiver Trey Burton lined up in his familiar wildcat formation and burst up the middle of the FSU defense for a 50-yard gain that landed the Gators deep in Seminole territory.
But on the tackle Burton landed hard on his left shoulder. He was done for the day.
Just like that, another one of the Gators’ biggest playmakers – one of he few left -- was wearing street clothes.
The 50-yard run was the second-longest run by a UF player this season and the second-longest of Burton’s career. Cruelly, it was also the last play of his college career.
“That was hard for Trey because he’s a senior and that was his last game in the ‘Swamp,’ ” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s very difficult for him. He’s a great young man. But that kind of sums up what has happened this year.”
Not only did the injury cost the Gators one of their best offensive weapons, but also forced Florida, which has struggled throughout its seven-game losing streak to gain any momentum on offense, to re-work the entire game plan.
With UF’s difficulties in moving the football this season (the Gators are last in the Southeastern Conference in yards and scoring per game), the offensive staff wanted to shake things up and utilize Burton in the wildcat on about half UF’s plays. Some design runs here. Some passes there. Something different than what had not been working.
“We had a lot of stuff prepared for him to run,” quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg acknowledged.
“We probably had 30-35 snaps with Trey,” Muschamp said. “Some of the misdirection runs go out of the game plan, so you have to make adjustments. You’ve got to change.”
Last year against the Seminoles, Burton rushed for 24 yards, had one catch and completed a pass. The Gators planned on utilizing Burton’s versatility once again.
They needed him.
“I was excited for the opportunity, and I was going to try to make the most of it,” said Burton, who played five different positions (quarterback, tailback, fullback, wideout and tight end) during his career. “But it got cut a little short.”
After his injury, Burton headed to the locker room. He returned to the field but in a role of moral support rather than the on-the-field presence and leader his teammates were used to.
He watched Florida’s first losing season in 34 years end from the sidelines.
A losing record and no bowl game isn’t how any Gator would imagine any season could go, but Burton said the adversity this year’s team faced will benefit next year’s.
“They’re going to get back to work,” said Burton, who finished his career with 1,815 yards of total offense. “And I have no doubt that they’re going to be really good next year. ... We’re losing a lot of talent, but we have guys who’ve taken a lot of snaps. For example, [freshman tailback] Kelvin Taylor. Whenever he’s been in, he’s played really well.”
Burton is one of 17 seniors who played their final game in the “Swamp.” For Burton, a day he wanted to be filled with memories of big plays and celebrations will instead consist of memories from the sideline.
That’s a long way from when Burton, as a true freshman, scored a school-record six touchdowns against Kentucky in just in fourth game of his career.
Doesn’t seem fair.
“Life’s not fair. I’ve seen my shares of fair and not fair during my four years here,” Burton said. “I feel like I’ve matured as a man, and I am extremely thankful for the opportunities I have had. I have grown, and I wouldn’t wish it any other way.”