Michael Burton is going into his sixth year as an NFL Fullback. He was drafted in the fifth-round by the Detroit Lions in 2015 after graduating from Rutgers University. Burton spent the 2019 offseason with the New Orleans Saints and the regular season in Washington. Now, he has returned to New Orleans.
Burton took the time to join the Locked on Saints podcast last week to discuss the exciting versatility of the fullback position, his journey into the NFL, his collaboration with the Embrace Kids Foundation and much more. Below, you can find a portion of the discussion as well as the entire podcast interview embedded. You can follow Burton on Twitter @MikeBurtonFB.
Ross Jackson: So let’s start with a little bit about you. Where are you from? What brought you to Rutgers? Lay down the journey for us a bit.
Michael Burton: Yeah, absolutely! I’m from Long Valley, New Jersey, about 45 minutes outside of New York City. Went to high school at West Morris Central, then went on to play at Rutgers University. Football’s always been the dream of mine, that’s the sport I’ve always been most passionate about. Played a bunch of sports growing up, but football is what I wanted to play, and Rutgers is where I wanted to go. I was actually a walk-on, not offered a scholarship right at first. I eventually earned one after being there for two and a half years. But that’s where I wanted to play, from New Jersey had a lot of pride, wanted to play for my state school and chose to walk-on there.
I ended up being named team captain, which was a great honor, obviously, just from my peers. Then [was] drafted by the Detroit Lions. Like I said, football is what I wanted to do, Rutgers is where I wanted to be and thankfully with the support of my friends and family, I was able to make that happen.
Tell us about the mentality that comes with coming in as a walk on and earning that captain status.
You learn very quickly that you need to bring your best every day. Every day I walked into that building [I knew] you have to be at your best. Especially being a non-scholarship athlete. And with that too you had to understand the importance of education and grades. You couldn’t give them any reason to get you out of the program if your GPA was slipping or you goofed off in class, you know what ever the case may be. So, you really had to be on all the time in order to make it work, make it happen being that walk-on.
And I’m glad, you know? I think it helped me really learn a lot. Because he helped me just learn how to be a pro and I’ve carried that on into the NFL. That’s kind of how I live my life every day now, too. Which has been great.
Now this isn’t your first time in New Orleans, you spent some time last offseason with the Saints as well. Can you tell us a little about your experience during your first stint here?
It was an awesome experience. Just having the opportunity to get down there, eventually signed in May from free agency. Hit the ground running right into OTAs. I mean the locker room, the coaches, everyone was just so welcoming to me coming on and it was just a really special place. I mean, I can’t say enough good things about them.
The way they run their day-to-day, just the emphasis on detail. It’s just a winning organization and winning culture. When you walk there and get into the facility, it just screams excellence. And where else would you want to be than to be in that type of environment? It just makes you better. It’s an unbelievable experience just being there has been transferable into my own life on how to just get better by a little bit every single day from what the coaches preach. Really excited to be back and I can’t wait to get started.
You were awarded the Paul Robeson Award which celebrates the impact you have on your club. We know that the Saints are all about culture. Is that part of what attracted you back to New Orleans?
Absolutely. I mean just the culture they had set in place. The excellence they demand of you. The work ethic and everything that they are all about is just so special and you want to be a part of that culture. They’re a winning culture. They do things the right way. I mean, you fall in line there right? They have a culture where you get in or you get out, that’s the way it is. It’s set at the top and it comes down. Obviously with Coach [Sean] Payton and then down to Drew [Brees], you know just the way they run that organization. It’s a really special place with two unbelievable leaders that you can learn so much from. So, just very excited to get back there and get working back with the team.
Can you talk a little bit about the responsibilities that come with playing the Fullback position?
Yeah, absolutely. Look, for the Fullback I think it’s dependability. A coachable guy who’s going to do his job, who’s going to be tough, who’s going to play his absolute hardest every single play. It’s just something that we kind of embody as Fullbacks. We might not necessarily always be the fastest or the most athletic guy on the field, but we need to be smart, tough, and we need to be able to outwork our opponent. That’s kind of how I choose to live my life. Just trying to be the hardest working person in the room.
So, with that, you have to understand that you’ve got to be able to catch, run the ball, run block obviously, and pass block. All that different certain things are kind of what makes fullbacks great. I think the fullbacks who can do more, more is better. So, the more diverse they can be, it just opens up the playbook for the offensive coordinator because it doesn’t necessarily say “Oh, with that fullback in the game, it’s a run.” If they can do different types of things with this guy on the field, that just creates problems for the defense. That just helps the offense that much more. So, I just try to work on those skills. What’s important for a fullback? It’s all those skills of being able to run the ball in a pinch if you have to, being able to catch an outlet, being able to pass block on third down, and be able to run block obviously too. Then there’s this whole other side. Understanding that it’s so important to be a four-core guy.
With all those different roles to serve, does there happen to be a favorite element for you? Something that you look forward to going out every Sunday and doing?
I still think, and maybe it’s just the Fullback in me but being on a run block and just blowing somebody up and watching the running back fly by and go for a touchdown or even a long gain, an explosive as we like to call it. I still think that is the most exciting thing for me.
I think, just a team, when you can run the ball it puts so much on the defense. You can just control the game, control the line of scrimmage and I think explosive play like that, it just wears down the defense. It’s a spark for the offense and then it’s just a spark for the pass game. And of course, we already know the quarterback and the passing situation on the Saints right now so don’t know that they need help but it’s nice to have a strong run game that’s dependable, that you can just get yards. So, I think for me it’s just like, opening that hole for the running back. And to be honest, with the running backs we have on the roster, they make my job a lot easier. They’re so good at everything, you just have to get on your guy and they’re just going to make a guy miss or run through a guy. I mean, the have all the blend of speed and power, you know? Patience, quickness, and eyes. They’re both exceptional backs. That’s another reason to be a part of that room is you have great running backs. Definitely makes your job a lot easier.
Before we wrap up, can you tell us about Mike’s Knights?
I partner with Embrace Kids and they work with Children’s Hospitals in New Jersey. That’s where I wen tot school, that’s where I grew up. I remember when I went to Rutgers, I started doing Children’s Hospital visits. Specifically, kids with pediatric cancer. Doing that five years in a row, it really just hit home to me. It really put things in perspective. You know, talk about trying times and difficulties and stuff like that. When you step foot in a Children’s Hospital and you see family and a child going through cancer and whatever the case may be, it is very tough. It’s very hard to see and all you want to do is help out the best way you can, right?
So, when I got to the NFL, I partnered with Embrace Kids and my camp, a voluntary camp, and it’s called Mike’s Knights. All the proceeds go to Embrace Kids and it all goes to families and children dealing with pediatric cancer for whatever is needed. Whether it be the research, whether it be for kids who are in hospitals all year-round in school and the families need to pay for tutors, they need to pay for schoolbooks, need to pay for material, what ever the case may be. Everything that we receive from that camp all goes to them. Specifically, there’s one hospital in New Brunswick that I spent a lot of time at. It’s just something I try to do to try to give back. If we can’t have the camp this year, we’re still going to do something. Try to make that happen and just donate and be part of the solution to helping these families and kids. It’s something I’m really passionate about and hopefully, you know, all things clear and we’ll be able to get all the kids and families together for the camp. But if not, we’ll make it work for sure.