You're a highly-talented wide receiver playing in the most important football season of your life. It's your senior year and you want to show the world why you're worthy of being drafted as a professional football player. But during the year, you are hampered by not one, but two nagging injuries — a sprained ankle sustained early in the season followed by a knee injury. What do you do?
"I had a slightly torn meniscus (knee cartilage) and an MCL sprain (knee ligament)," he said recently during an interview while talking about his preparations for the NFL Scouting Combine. "The MCL sprain happened against Florida around Week 7, and I played through that. I'm not sure when I hurt the meniscus — I could have hurt it during that game or by playing with the sprained MCL."
Despite the ankle and knee injuries, Burton only missed one game and went on to finish his career at Kentucky with some impressive numbers. He caught 66 passes for 741 yards and nine touchdowns during his senior year. During his junior year, when he was 100 percent healthy, he became just the third player in the school's history to pass the 1,000-yard mark in receptions with 1,036 yards. The All-SEC receiver also caught 12 touchdowns that year, second-best on Kentucky's all-time list.
But one statistic — that might go overlooked by the more casual onlooker — that's going to be noticed by NFL clubs — is the fact that out of Burton's 77 catches in 2006, 49 of them resulted in a new set of downs for the Kentucky offense.
Simply put, Keenan Burton knows how to move the chains.
"Definitely. That's something I pride myself in, being someone who can take a lot of pressure off the quarterback," he said.
The 6-foot-1, 204-pound receiver won the admiration of his teammates and his head coach in 2007 with his determined effort to play through pain, especially when he took the field for the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl after battling some swelling of the knee during the week leading up to the game. He caught seven passes in the game to help his team post a 35-28 victory over Florida State.
Keenan Burton catches a pass over Arkansas safety Kevin Woods.
(AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
"Obviously, the Music City Bowl was a gutsy performance," Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said. "He played with the injury in the bowl game after not being able to go through a lot of practice. That's the kind of toughness that NFL people like to see."
Burton opted to undergo an arthroscopic procedure following that game to repair the slight tear in the meniscus so that NFL coaches and general managers who would be evaluating him up through draft day would be confident that they would be hiring a player who was fully ready for NFL action.
"I had fought through so much at Kentucky with those injuries, so I really wanted the chance to be healthy going into the predraft activities," he said. "The tear wasn't really that serious, but it was something I needed to get fixed."
Burton's ability to rebound from injury was first tested after he had two surgeries in 2005 to repair a broken bone in his foot. He dedicated himself to his recovery and his career so completely that he not only put up his best single-season totals in receiving in 2006, he also averaged 24.7 yards per return on kickoffs.
"I did everything that I was asked to do — from rehabbing, physical therapy, to the type of weight training I was able to do," he said. "And I just tried to be smart — not staying up late, not going out and doing those negative things that can put pressure on an injury by being up, staying up.
"I knew how important that season was for me, so I wanted to take baby steps towards getting healthy and helping my team to have a successful season."
Following his recent arthroscopic surgery on his knee, Burton went to back to work, preparing himself for the NFL Combine. It's all gone according to plan and he's ready to show the crowd of NFL personnel evaluators who will gather in Indianapolis what he's fully capable of doing on the football field with his speed, change of direction skills, and his hands.
Burton will also have the opportunity to sit down with coaches and general mangers in Indianapolis during personal interviews. And there are just a few things he wants to be sure that they know about him as a person.
"First and foremost, I want them to know that I'm a person who believes that without God, nothing is possible," he said. "Secondly, I want them to understand that if they take a chance on me and draft me, they're not drafting someone who is just in it for the money. They're drafting someone who just loves playing football. A lot of guys don't feel that way anymore, they don't do it for that.
"And I want them to know that I'm willing to do anything and everything that I have to, to be successful and to be what they want me to be."
Based on what he's demonstrated over the past few years at Kentucky, it's likely that those NFL evaluators will already know that. But when they speak with Burton and hear the conviction in his voice, they'll believe even more that he's a player who will be an asset to their football team for years to come.