John Burt walked off the field with his head held high after totaling a career-high four receptions in the Longhorns’ surprising upset of No. 12 Baylor last fall.
It was the wide receiver’s last game as a true freshman, but it wouldn’t be his last taste of competition during the academic year. Burt went on to compete as a member of the track and field team in the spring.
He specializes in the 110-meter hurdles and the 4x100-meter relay, two physically demanding sprint-style races. Training for track after a bruising football season makes the sport even more strenuous. But Burt doesn’t mind.
“Even in the spring while I was still running track, I could already feel that I was faster on the field when running my routes,” Burt said. “I really feel like running gave me that extra work that I needed to work on my speed.”
Head coach Charlie Strong doesn’t mind either. He said the extra season helps players improve their physical tools and feeds into their competitiveness.
“If you’re a two-sport [player], it just helps tremendously,” Strong said. “I just love to see that happen because we have guys that can run, and they do need to run track.”
Burt has participated in both football and track dating back to his days at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida. He’s always been a natural sprinter, evident both on turf and on the track.
He raced by defenders for touchdown catches of 84 yards and 69 yards last season. But sprinting by competitors on the track might be Burt’s strong suit. He finished second in the 110-meter hurdles at the Big 12 Championship. Burt’s 457 receiving yards led the team last season.
Still, he knows that he’ll have to do more than catch the long ball to be recognized as an every-down receiving threat.
“[A] big part of being a receiver is being versatile,” Burt said. “One-dimensional guys really aren’t that useful in the league. You need guys that are versatile that can do many different things.”
Junior receiver Devon Allen of Oregon is the kind of athlete Burt alluded to. Allen nabbed 41 receptions for 684 yards and seven touchdowns in 2014 as the Ducks surged their way to the National Championship game.
Similar to Burt, Allen is labeled as a track star first and football player second. Allen finished fifth in the 110-meter hurdles at the Rio Olympic Games and was 0.07 seconds away from a medal.
But Allen is more than just a deep threat on the field. He excels in catching short passes then turning up field — something Burt said he’d like to improve upon.
“Being able to be used in many different situations [is important],” Burt said. “That’s one thing that scouts look for when looking for a receiver. Can this guy catch a home run ball, but can this guy catch a hitch route as well?”
The sophomore also must adjust to a brand new offense. Offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert hopes to open up the playbook in his first season with the Longhorns.
Burt said the new offense tailors to each individual’s strengths and the routes aren’t too hard to remember.
And if his success adjusting to a second sport is any indication, he could be in for a big sophomore season.
“As an athlete, you’re never in a comfort zone for too long,” Burt said. “You just kind of have to adjust and roll with what you got.”