NEW CASTLE – Most high school athletes want the maximum amount of buzz when they sign a National Letter of Intent to accept a college athletic scholarship.
Not Zachariah Burton.
The William Penn senior signed to play football at the University of Virginia on Thursday morning. The ceremony — if you can call it that — took place in a small conference room at the high school. Only his parents — Frank Sr. and Tasey — three assistant coaches and one reporter were present.
“I didn’t want too much attention,” Burton said. “… The fanfare, all the flashing lights, that doesn’t really mean anything to me.”
The football signing period doesn’t begin until Feb. 1, but seniors who plan to graduate from high school early may sign earlier. Burton said Dec. 16 will be his final day at William Penn. Then the 6-foot-2, 187-pound defensive back will enroll at Virginia in January and be eligible to participate in spring practice.
“It’s something that I wanted to do since I found out about it last year,” he said. “I just heard from a lot of people that it would be a good decision, it would be something that would help me both in the classroom and on the field.”
Early graduations are increasing among college-bound football players. Middletown quarterback Darius Wade left high school early to get a jump on his competition at Boston College three years ago.
Burton earned this opportunity by lighting it up in the classroom and on the field. He received recruiting interest from close to a dozen colleges, with the final decision coming between Virginia and Connecticut. He had already been exposed to the recruiting process after watching his older brother — William Penn defensive lineman Frank Burton Jr., who signed with Ball State — go through it last year.
“It just came down to which one felt like home, which one would push me to be a better person,” Burton said. “I feel like Virginia will just push me ahead.”
The Cavaliers are in their first season under coach Bronco Mendenhall, who was hired after going 99-43 with 11 straight bowl appearances at Brigham Young. Virginia was 4-8 last season and is off to an 0-2 start this year after losses to Richmond and Oregon.
“I’m excited to just be a part of coach Mendenhall’s program,” Burton said. “I feel like he’s really going to turn the program around. I believe that something big is brewing in Charlottesville.”
Of course, Burton would like to brew something big in New Castle first. He was a sophomore starter in the defensive backfield when the Colonials won the DIAA Division I championship two years ago. William Penn fell in the D-I semifinals last season.
On offense, Burton moved from receiver to quarterback for his senior season. Last Friday, he threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Terin Cochran in the second quarter and scored the winning touchdown on a 10-yard run in the final two minutes as William Penn edged St. Georges 27-24 in its opener. The sixth-ranked Colonials play host to No. 3 Middletown at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“The goal is still the same,” Burton said. “Go out and play hard and try to win a championship.”
Then head off to Virginia, without any fanfare.
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.