Against All Odds: Eagles TE Trey Burton opens up on Faith, Friendship & Football

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The 2016 season was filled with thrills and spills for the Philadelphia Eagles. From the emergence of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, to some true tests for a young team, it was certainly a year of growth. One player who really made the most of every opportunity this year was tight end Trey Burton. After being signed as an undrafted rookie three season’s ago, Burton’s rise through the depth chart has been an enticing story to follow. The most recent chapter of which, saw the former Florida Gator receive for 327 yards and his first offensive touchdown in 2016. The road hasn’t always been smooth for Burton, who sat down with us recently to talk about his time in Philadelphia and what the future holds.

Being listed as the fourth tight end on the roster as an undrafted rookie, it would be fair to say that the odds were stacked against Burton in his rookie season. But that wasn’t going to stop him from making the most of every opportunity he was given. Burton played in 55% of special teams snaps during his first season in the NFL..but it was the influence of the three tight ends above him on the depth chart that helped Burton stay on track.

“I don’t know if I’d be in the league right now if I didn’t have Celek, Ertz and James Casey in my rookie year. I can’t really describe what they mean to me on and off the field but I owe so much to those guys. For their work ethics, their attitudes and on top of that how they treated me throughout this whole process. Being a fourth tight end doesn’t happen that often in the league, especially an inactive fourth tight end. The encouragement I’ve received from them, the knowledge, the wisdom, the friendship off the field. You’ve got a guy in Celek who is one of the all time greats in Philly, maybe the best tight end Philly has ever had. The way he’s treated me, I have the upmost respect for that guy and would do anything for him. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

The next season would see Burton gain his first experience of playing Offense in the NFL. The most memorable moment of Burton’s year for many, will be an explosive 43-yard reception in the thanksgiving loss to Detroit.

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“It was cool because it was on thanksgiving, it’s historic for thanksgiving day games and it was a really fun opportunity. Obviously it didn’t end the way we envisioned but I think it was a confidence builder for me individually knowing I can go out there and do it.”

Burton would go on to make another reception in that game, before hauling in a pass against the Giants later in the year. When reflecting on Chip Kelly’s final season as a Head Coach, Trey opened up about how his opportunities would often come around.

“I hate that a lot of my opportunities come in bad situations..in the sense that somebody gets hurt. So when Zach or Celek gets hurt, I know that I’m not gonna be a future dude so I know a lot of times it’s a bad scenario for the team when I do get my opportunities”.

Keen to expand his Offensive role, Burton worked extensively in the offseason to refine his craft and improve his chances of contributing for the team.

“I just remember trying to get better in the offseason, trying to work on my craft and just hoping that I was able to get an opportunity to play a little offense. I felt like I was able to and it’s always been a dream. I knew what it took to be in the league and I wanted to expand my role and stay as long as I could.”

But then the road took a turn that nobody expected. Not only did the team part ways with Chip Kelly, the only coach who had given Burton a call and a chance to shine in the NFL, but the franchise completely renovated their front office staff..and eventually traded up to draft quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick. The rapid change of landscape may have caught many by surprise, but previous experience left the now third-string tight end subtly prepared for the transition.

“In College I had three different offensive coordinators, two new head coaches and a different position coach every single year. One thing that does happen when you get a new coach is you get a new opportunity. So the guys at the bottom of the depth chart, it gives them an opportunity to prove to the new coach what they’re made of and show what they can do. When the Eagles hired Coach (Pederson), I knew I had a new opportunity with somebody who doesn’t have a judgement on me. Someone who didn’t pick me and doesn’t know too much about me. It’s basically a clean slate and I felt like I had to prove that I was able to play. I’d go out there with as much confidence as I could and I’m a big believer in taking advantage of every opportunity. Everytime I go out there I’m expecting myself to make a play and nothing less.  

It would be this attitude that is so ingrained in the heart of Burton that led to a stunning offseason. Making huge plays in training camp and OTA’s, Burton turned plenty of heads from start to finish and emerged as one of the most exciting players to watch during the team’s preseason games. Doug Pederson’s previous success with tight end Travis Kelce left many fans itching to see how the new Head Coach would utilize the three tight ends on the Eagles roster. Three tight end sets and an intimidating rotation would both be later included in gameplans throughout the year, surging Burton into a much more prominent role. But Pederson’s attitude behind closed doors had just as much impact on Burton’s breakout.

“One of my favorite things about Doug is one of his biggest mottos, “let your personality show”. You don’t hear coaches say that very often. They don’t want crazy things to happen. Doug used to say that all the time and everytime he would say that, to me personally it gave me peace. It would calm me down and let me be who I am, instead of being like a robot and trying to impress a coach who likes a tighter ship.”

We have often heard how Doug Pederson’s emotional approach to coaching has resonated with the players and after all, it was a quality craved by owner Jeffery Lurie after the firing of Chip Kelly. But it’s rare to hear just how much difference it can make to the morale of a locker room..and even less common to hear the differences in coaching styles between Doug Pederson and Chip Kelly, something Trey gracefully explained.

“I think there’s a lot of weight to having a coach who has played the game before and been in this situation. Especially one who has won a Super Bowl as a player. One thing I don’t really agree on is people bashing coaches. If it wasn’t for Chip Kelly, I wouldn’t be in the NFL. He was the only one that called me and gave me an opportunity to play. What bad things could I possibly say about someone who gave me an opportunity to play in the league? It would be extremely hypocritical of me to do that. I love Coach Kelly, I respect him. I think he’s an unbelievable coach. But there’s something different that Doug bought to the table. He was a lot more relaxed and the ultimate players coach.”

The stage was set. A new coach, a new era, a new quarterback and a new chance to shine..and that’s exactly what Burton did. From a fourth string tight end to a player who contributed in 605 total team snaps in 2016, the skies began to brighten.

“It’s a dream. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. Just to be out there on the field, to be a contributor and help your team win. We had a lot of bad breaks, we lost six games by less than a touchdown and a lot of last minute deals..things you wish you could get back. But that’s what happens when you’ve got a young team and if we learn from them it was all worth it. it’s something I hope will happen next year, I really don’t know were I’m gonna be or where I’m gonna end up..but looking back on it, it was just a dream and a lot of fun.”

Burton caught his first career touchdown pass against the Chicago Bears in week two. A defining moment for any NFL player, the five-yard reception was just as memorable for the tight end. However what we didn’t know, was that something happened to dim the spark ever so slightly in the midst of the play.

 

Sep 19, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Philadelphia Eagles tight end Trey Burton (47) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the second half at Soldier Field. The Eagles won 29-14. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

“The only thing that took away a little bit of the shine was that there was a flag thrown that nobody knew about! Obviously it still counted and it was great.”

The Eagles season was anything but blue skies and rainbows however and there were plenty of challenges along the way. After a shattering loss to Cincinnati, the outside pressure began to cave in, but the players resurged with some never-say-die performances in the coming weeks. A strong mentality, a ruthless attitude and a sense of unity saw the Eagles pull together and find confidence in struggle.

“Nobody goes out there to lose. We’re not looking at our schedule going we can win this and lose that. We train, we study film during the week and every week we’re grinding. We’re all human and little things can happen that mess with you. Something could happen off the field back home that could effect your game that week and you might not be able to prepare as much. 

For me that game (Cincinnati)  was actually a positive. We could have easily laid down but if you go back and watch it, we almost came back and won that game. There was a point where we were in the huddle like “boys we might actually win this”.

“There are some teams who will lay it down and go to the next week. We play as hard as we can for our
I would never say we expect to lose, we expect to go in every week and win. The scenario doesn’t matter. We were able to turn it around a little bit after that Cincinnati game. I can’t really pinpoint what it was..if I could, we would have won every game. We try to win every single week.”

This set the tone for Trey’s season as he would go on to catch a pass in all but two games of the 2016 season. Through all the highs, lows and rigors of an NFL season..there was one constant in Burton’s season, his faith. Audience of One has become a well known phrase amongst Philadelphians..but the impact of such a strong relationship with God is the message that the players really want to share with the world.

“It’s not just a slogan, it’s a lifestyle. In my life, that’s true. Nothing else really matters in our opinion. We don’t play to lose and the reason we do that is because we’re free. We’re not playing for anybody else, we’re playing for the Lord and for the abilities he’s given us. We understand the magnitude and the influence we’re able to have on people. Me personally, that’s one of the only things that gets me through the nerves, the injuries and football. It’s knowing I’m playing for him.”

For many, the first echoes of “Audience of One” were heard after Carson Wentz had arrived in Philadelphia. But for Trey, the relationship with the Lord is something that has deep roots in his College career and helped him overcome a personal hurdle. Something that is experienced by people in all walks of life and can prove hugely detrimental.

“Looking back on Audience Of One, it’s something I kind of got into when I was a freshman in college. I had an extremely high anxiety problem, to the point I couldn’t do anything on the field. I’d sweat so bad the night before I played because I was so anxious to get out there. I’d be cramping up before the game even started. I was worried about what the world or what everybody else was going to say about me and how I performed.

The spotlight for me has always been on since High School. Committing to Florida in my sophomore year, being one of the guys that’s supposed to lead Florida to a national championship as a quarterback behind Tim Tebow, I had a lot of pressure I put on myself.

Once I really came to grips with the Audience of One and got a stronger relationship with the Lord. The easier it was for me to understand that I’m not going out there to try and impress anybody, or worry about what someone on twitter says or an article says about me. I’m more than that. They don’t define me, I’m defined in Christ. None of that other stuff really matters anymore for me. It was a big change and I truly try to live it.”

 

Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenjon Barner (34) and tight end Trey Burton (47) and offensive guard Stefen Wisniewski (61) and free safety Chris Maragos (42) form a prayer circle at the conclusion of a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Green Bay Packers won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

 

The strong emphasis on faith can be felt throughout the Eagles locker room. Chris Maragos, Jordan Matthews and Carson Wentz are among those that live their lives in the glory of God..but they’re fully aware of the implications that living so openly in a judgmental society can have..but also the influence it can have.

“We know if we step out in faith and do these types of things, we’re putting our careers at risk in reality because a lot of people in the world don’t believe what we believe. We know if we’re doing it together, it helps bring a little more peace and understanding. The Bible tells us we’re going to be mocked, persecuted and made fun of and we’re cool with that.”

“I know for me, I was injured week one on a Friday before the first game. I’m a big believer in Prayer and healing and we worship a God of miracles. I’ve seen guys with injury ask for prayer and be healed almost immediately.  We’ve seen guys turn their lives to christ, guys get baptized and people talk about the Lord who we’d never imagine talking about the Lord, coming to Bible study with us and giving us space in their life to talk about how he’s impacted our life.”

In the present day, the future still remains cloudy for Burton. With the Eagles facing their most crucial offseason in recent memory, the pending free agent is still waiting to hear his fate. There has been no word from the Eagles on whether he will be returning next season, but the approach from the former Gator is the same. A trust that it’s all part of a greater plan.

“All my family and myself are on God’s timing. It doesn’t matter when or what happens, we know he has a plan for us and we’re trying to walk in his will. If I get the feeling that the Lord wants me to leave Football, I’m gone..there’s no second guessing. We know that he wants us to do something, we’re going to wait and see what happens and where we’re going to be next year.”

Regardless of what the future holds, Burton’s career until this point has been a story of grit, determination, faith and hard work. It’s these qualities that see him so revered in the locker room, loved by fans and embraced by the community. From an undrafted rookie who spent 2014 contributing on solely special teams, to a player who played a key role in the development of Carson Wentz, Trey Burton’s story is one that simply inspires..and deserves a happy ending.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

 

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