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It’s safety first for Burton — which is why he is with the Lobos

UNM defensive back Brandon Burton watches the defense run plays during practice last week. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

So just who is Brandon Burton?

What’s he all about?

Maybe a good person to start with is Patrick Peek, Burton’s roommate and fellow defensive back on the University of New Mexico football team.

“Brandon is a dog,” Peek said. “I know what type of work he puts in. He always gets back to the house super late with me. We’re always the first ones here and the last ones to leave. He’s going to be a dog this year.”

It’s not too difficult to explain why Burton is similar to a dog when it comes to football. He had to sit out a year from the game he loves after transferring in from UCLA. Now he’s hungry.

“Very hungry,” Burton said. “I’m a dog. You make stuff happen when you’re a dog. Come out here and make plays. Pat is the same way. Pat is a dog.”

Officially, Burton is a Lobo.

As a 6-foot-1, 200-pound redshirt junior, he is expected to make plays at free safety and/or strong safety to help a defense that struggled mightily against the deep pass last year. There’s also the matter that UNM’s defense lost standout safety Marcus Hayes to transfer — the 2018 All-Mountain West Conference second-team selection who led the nation in punt-return average is now at Kansas State.

Burton certainly can relate to transferring. He had his own reasons — namely, he didn’t want to play linebacker as Bruins coach Chip Kelly had wanted. That resulted in him giving up a starting spot at that position for a Pac-12 program in exchange for a new start with the Lobos.

New Mexico safety and UCLA transfer Brandon Burton, left, attempts to break free from a block during drills Thursday morning.

“I felt like the best chance of making it to the NFL was playing safety, and at UCLA it wasn’t going to happen,” Burton said. “So I had to take a leap of faith. I had to jump in the deep end, and I knew what was going to happen. It was just to start swimming.”

Burton came out of Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, Calif., near his home in south central Los Angeles, with great confidence. He was considered a four-star recruit by ESPN and Rivals.com.

He excelled as a defensive back, wide receiver and return specialist. He took official visits to Florida State, Oklahoma State and Ohio State. Another Power 5 program was very interested in him, he said, but he did not want to reveal which one.

When he arrived at UCLA, he played safety. But going into his sophomore year, he was moved to outside linebacker.

“That was challenging being 190 (pounds) in the box,” he said. “I made it work. After that, coach Kelly came in place of (Jim) Mora. I got moved to inside ‘backer. We switched our defense. Then, at 195 (pounds) I was in that ‘C’ gap every play. It wasn’t really that fun, but I was making plays. Now, I came here (and) I got my shot to go back and play safety. I’m just trying to get on the field, help contribute to the team and help make plays.”

Someone from the media asked: What if people have forgotten about you?

“I just come out here and I play football,” Burton said. “I don’t care if they forgot or if they remember. I’m gonna come out here and be the same dude and make plays.”

When Burton wanted to transfer out of UCLA, he said UNM was the only FBS program offering a spot, and to play safety. FCS programs Montana and Albany along with NCAA Division II West Georgia were also wanting his services, he said. He could have gone that route instead, which would have prevented him from having to sit out a year, according to NCAA rules.

He has shown his ability to make plays in the early days of preseason camp, recording two interceptions. His athleticism has also made him a contender to return punts and kicks.

“Brandon is really smart, and Brandon has a lot of overall football experience,” UNM coach Bob Davie said. “… His biggest challenge right now is suddenness and quickness and the ability to make plays in the open field. But he’s competing. He’s right in the middle of it. We’re just trying to find the best 11 guys right now. So he has an opportunity.”

Burton, after a year away from football, knows what to do with that opportunity.

“I’m here and ready to work,” he said.

Aug. 31

Season opener: Sam Houston State at UNM

4 p.m., 770 AM/94.5 FM

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