Burton Prepares For Fifth Go-Round Against Cardinals

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- The last time Kentucky receiver Keenan Burton talked to Michael Bush by phone, Bush was complaining that his new Oakland Raider teammates had just sent him to buy fried chicken.

"I said, 'Why are you upset?"' Burton said. "'You've got the money to spend. What's a $5 meal from Popeyes?"'

Burton easily could have followed his best friend to the guaranteed wealth of an NFL player. Instead, he decided to delay his pro dreams for a year to return to Kentucky, pursue his journalism degree, up his draft stock and help the Wildcats (2-0) build on last year's first bowl victory in 22 years.

Oh, and then there is that other motivation that will come only once this season -- Saturday against No. 9 Louisville (2-0), which plays its home games at Papa John's Stadium "just steps," in Burton's words, from where he grew up.

Burton always wanted to be a Cardinal, and if he'd converted to defensive back, he might have realized those dreams. But after gaining high school fame as an option quarterback, he saw himself as an offensive player -- likely a receiver -- at the next level. Kentucky saw him that way too.

That's how two close high school friends ended up not only on separate teams, but arch rivals.

Bush is gone now, but the matchup certainly hasn't lost any luster for Burton. In fact, because of a medical redshirt he received his sophomore season, he's in the unique position of facing the Cardinals for a fifth consecutive year.

Burton's career record against them: 0-4.

"Everybody else had four shots," Burton said. "I get five. Maybe God is telling me something: It's time to get it right."

Burton was always considered an elite talent, but until last season, freak injuries had limited him.

After a promising freshman year in 2003, he suffered a hairline fracture in his wrist during preseason practices as a sophomore. He played the Louisville game hurt, but eventually decided to redshirt.

Trying his sophomore season again, he broke a foot and was sidelined four games.

Bush talked him through both of those injuries, but last year the tables were turned when Bush broke his leg against Kentucky in the opener.

Bush decided to turn pro anyway, slipping to the fourth round of the draft, and he currently is on the Raiders' injury list.

It seems ironic, Burton acknowledges, that he's healthy and still in college while his friend is injured and in the pros. But conditions dictated both decisions.

"I think he came to his decision because of his age and because of the good young backs coming through this year," Burton said. "My decision was different because I had been injured and I wanted to show people, fans and scouts that I could have another successful year."

Finally healthy, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound receiver led Kentucky in touchdowns (13), receptions (77), receiving yards (1,036) and all-purpose yards (1,845). He also helped bring along Dicky Lyons Jr. as an effective No. 2 option for quarterback Andre Woodson.

The vertical passing game, perceived as Kentucky's biggest weakness just over a year ago, now is its biggest strength.

"We are going to have our hands full, but we are ready for it," Louisville cornerback Bobby Buchanan said of the Wildcats' receivers.

Burton's coaches say they don't notice any different approach to his preparations this week, despite all the national attention focused on the rivalry.

"Keenan gets driven by every game," offensive coordinator Joker Phillips said. "He's gotten up for both of the two games we've played, and he'll be jacked up for this one, too, just because it's our next game."

But the players, especially the seniors, know better than the idea this is just another game for the star receiver. Eric Scott, a center also in his fifth year with Kentucky, said the chance to continue this rivalry was one of the main reasons Burton is still a Wildcat.

"It has a lot to do with what Keenan wanted," Scott said. "He's a very loyal person, and this team right now is the most important thing in his life. Some guys, they know they can make all this money, but Keenan's not that type of person. He won't put money before his family, and we're his family."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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