The ultimate sign of respect for a defensive back is when opposing teams refuse to throw in that player’s general direction. It means the DB already has won a piece of the battle and forced coaches to rethink their strategy because he is simply too good, too consistent to test.
Donte Burton was that defensive back during his prep career at Loganville (Ga.) High School. There is a reason, after all, why Burton picked up the nickname “Clamp” while attending a summer camp before his sophomore season.
“Everywhere we go, they’re like, ‘What’s up, Clamp?'” Donte’s father, Dexter Burton, told Land of 10. “All the other players when we go to different camps at Rivals, Under Armour, they call him Clamp. Everybody around Georgia calls him Clamp. That’s what he’s known for.”
Burton, who signed with Wisconsin during the early signing period in December, will enroll in college a semester early to participate in spring practice. And he is optimistic that decision could allow him a fighting chance to see the field next season.
Wisconsin loses three cornerbacks: seniors Derrick Tindal and Lubern Figaro, as well as junior Nick Nelson, who declared for the NFL draft. Dontye Carriere-Williams is the only returning cornerback with significant game experience. Madison Cone, Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams all are players who will vie for time.
“I want to work into that starting spot,” Burton said. “I know they’ve got a few guys in the secondary that have left, and I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to go in and try to compete for a starting job right away.”
Burton became a starting cornerback at Loganville during his freshman season following an injury to a teammate, and he never relinquished his spot. He finished his career with 127 tackles, 8 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles. As a senior, he earned first-team all-state honors after recording 28 tackles with 3 interceptions and 1 punt return for a touchdown.
Those numbers from the 2017 season might not seem like much. But, again, his reputation as a ball hawk preceded him.
“When we had our region meeting, I asked coaches, ‘Well, I don’t know if it was by accident or by design, but it seemed like there weren’t a whole lot of balls going his way,'” Loganville football coach Mike Humphreys said. “All the coaches said, ‘Oh, it was by design.’ They were all real impressed with him. He did a great job for us. He was everything we thought he was going to be.”
Donte Burton’s senior-season highlights
Burton committed to North Carolina in July 2016. But in January 2017, North Carolina defensive backs coach Charlton Warren left to take the same job at Tennessee. A few weeks later, Tar Heels defensive coordinator Gene Chizik stepped down from his position. Burton wanted a fresh start and de-committed in April. He’s ranked on the 247Sports composite as the nation’s No. 55 cornerback.
Wisconsin stepped in and offered him a scholarship in May. Burton didn’t hear much from Badgers coaches over the summer, but his recruiting gained steam in September when the staff was looking to add another defensive back. Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle met with Burton at his high school and said defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was impressed with his skill set.
According to Burton, Settle informed him that he was the No. 1 cornerback on their recruiting board and could make an immediate impact with the program. Settle urged him to take a visit and see what he thought for himself.
Burton finally scheduled that official visit and watched Wisconsin’s 33-24 victory against Northwestern on Sept. 30. He quickly was blown away by the atmosphere, school, coaches and players. Burton committed to the Badgers that night over dinner with Leonhard.
“Me and Coach Leonhard have a real good relationship,” Burton said. “He loves me as a player. He loves what I do on the field. He also loves me as a person. Me and Coach Leonhard, away from football, have similar attitudes. We’re just calm and cool, but once we get on the field, we’ve got that competitive edge. I feel like me and Coach Leonhard, we’re a good match. I just can’t wait to get up there and him teach me everything he knows and me take it all in.”
Dexter Burton, who once played football at Georgia, visited the campus with his son during that trip and tried to play devil’s advocate to convince him to take some time with his decision. But Donte saw how genuine the players and coaches were and how much they loved representing Wisconsin and was sold.
“When we went to Wisconsin and took that visit, they were real nice, good guys,” Dexter Burton said. “You could tell all they want to do is play football, go to school and get their degree, handle their business. And that’s the type of person Donte is. Once that was all in front of us, it was a no-brainer to us. It fits Donte to a T.”
Burton returned to campus in December, along with 16 other commits in the 2018 class, to attend Wisconsin’s football banquet. He said that trip only further solidified his love for Wisconsin because of the energy around the program, the manner in which coaches care for players and the hard-working attitude from top to bottom.
“That’s just something that I want to be a part of,” Burton said. “Once I went up there, I was like, ‘Yeah, I made the right decision.'”
Humphreys described Burton as a player who leads by example but also as someone who pushed himself to become more of a vocal leader during his senior season. Burton’s work ethic and attitude positively impacted the team. Even when quarterbacks wouldn’t throw his way, he never allowed that to affect him on the field.
“He’s got a great demeanor,” Humphreys said. “You can’t tell whether he just intercepted a ball or just got burned for a touchdown. He has a great demeanor, a short memory, which I think will be real good for him in the future.”
Added Dexter Burton: “Donte’s a really, really hard worker. And that’s one thing that if I’m going to take the parent situation out of it, he works extremely hard, and he can perform at the drop of a dime in front of anybody. He lives and breathes it. That’s the thing that I like about him. Not only can he play, but he works. He’s not afraid of the weight room. He’s not afraid to go out there and do 1-on-1s with anybody.”
Burton said he was looking forward to joining Wisconsin’s program and earning a head start in spring ball. He weighs 178 pounds and noted his goal was to gain about 10 pounds. While he adjusts, he’ll be ready to make an impact at the next level and begin putting the clamps on some new foes.
“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “I know it’s far away from home. It’s a little anxiety but not too much. I’m just really eager to get started and actually be up there and be a part of the team.”