By Bruce Sayler
It took some giant steps for Blake Burton to get to where he has, so it is little wonder why he relishes being the tallest running back in the West Shrine Team Camp.
“That’s never happened before,” the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder said after Wednesday’s afternoon practice by the West as the team prepares for its Saturday East-West Shrine Game football classic in Billings. “When I got here, I expected some 6-foot-2, 220-pound kid to come through the door (to play running back). It’s kind of fun, though.”
Burton has been soaking the enjoyment, though Wednesday afternoon’s weather returned to 80s temperatures and raised the heat on Bob Green Field’s artificial turf. So, practice was a little shorter.
“We’re now at half-pads,” Burton, still showing sweat, said in relief. “No more three-a-days.”
Burton was a late addition to the team. He was first selected as an alternate for the West even though his numbers were of high quality — rushing for 901 yards on 95 carries for Butte Central last fall, his senior season. The 95 totes included seven for touchdowns and he also caught 16 passes for 252 yards as the Maroons experienced another postseason run.
He, Helena High standout Ryan Arntson and Hot Springs star Kane Lawson will be the ballcarriers in the West attack. All have sprinter speed.
They figure to see action in the passing game, as well.
“We mostly let Ryan out in the flat and I can get out in the slot in the passing routes,” Burton said. “They have a couple plays for me coming out of the backfield, too. But, we mostly let Ryan do the smoke out of the backfield because he knows this offense so well.”
Arntson is the son of head coach Tony Arntston and the offense treated them well in a good season last year at Helena High with Tony Arntson at the coaching helm.
Burton said learning the offense has been challenging this week, but mostly because of the terminology being different from what he knew at BC. It was hard to put new words to old knowledge.
“It’s a zone read, like we do in high school,” Burton said. “The difference is in how they call it.”
Now, he said he thinks the team has everything down pretty well and that the offense has especially benefitted this week by going two or three times a day against a tremendous defense in practice.
“The line’s doing great,” he said. “It’s getting into scheme fast, and seeing how (the linemen) fire off the ball is pretty cool. It’s been a lot of work here. It’s not just show up and play backyard football. We’re learning plays and getting it done.
“(Dillon head coach) Rick Nordahl always has that defense going in Dillon, so you know it’ll be good here. I know that from playing at Butte Central.”
Nordahl is serving as Arntson’s defensive coordinator for this game.
Burton said he has been quite impressed with all facets of the West team.
“It’s hard to pick out the bad stuff, because you don’t see any,” he said. “It’s hard to fix bad things when everybody here is all-state. Everybody does things above average. You see film of great high school teams, and it is always competitive out here.”
Burton earned All-State and All-Southwestern A Conference notices his senior year and was a two-year starter for Butte Central, at running back and linebacker. He took home all-conference laurels as a junior. Burton returned kicks and punts from his sophomore year on, and will do so with Zak Karlin of Columbia Falls and Ryan Arntson in Saturday’s game.
Hanging out with his fellow All-Staters has been one of the better experiences of this camp, Burton said.
“Meeting all the people — people who are studs around the state, and kids on teams we don’t normally play,” he said.
He gave that he knew a good many of the players already from years of sports, especially in football and also in track where the competitive meets are usually quite social with plenty of time for athletes to converse and compare notes.
However, this game will also include baseball players Burton never met in track, and a good many Class B and C players he might not have crossed paths with before, he offered.
“I ran track against Ryan (Arntson) in junior high and we knew each other from there,” Burton put forth as an example, “but I didn’t know about Lawson.”
Burton said he has three favorite memories from playing high school ball with the Maroons — competing for the state championship as a sophomore in 2014, a comeback victory over Billings Central and his last game, in the state playoffs last fall.
“I had a really good game in my last game,” he said. “It’s a favorite memory, even though we lost.”
He’ll have a chance to make more memories. Burton will continue his career this fall at Montana Tech while probably majoring in biology while considering a career in the medical field, he said.
“I broke both of my wrists,” he said, “and I’ve been interested in that field ever since.”
In football, Burton said Oredigger head coach Chuck Morrell and staff is looking at him as a running back, and one that is a good receiver out of the backfield or in the slot, a la the recently graduated Zach Bunney.
“So, half-and-half run-and-pass,” he said. “Zach had a great career doing it. He distinguished himself in that role.”
Burton is hoping to take more giant steps into doing similarly — this Saturday and then at Montana Tech.
Note: Butte Sports will profile the five Butte players playing in the Montana Shrine Game this week. Other players representing the Mining City on the West Side are Kiley Caprara, Nate McGree, Sam Johnston and Bryce Gallagher.