QB would have looked good in Lobo colors
He was Burston with talent. Had Cameron Burston brought those talents to the University of New Mexico as originally planned, and not to Tarleton State University, what might have happened?
Normally, I try to stay away from what-ifs. This one, though, caught my fancy this week.
Burston, I wrote in April 2017, just might be the guy University of New Mexico football had never had under then-head coach Bob Davie — hadn’t had, truly, since Graham Leigh in the late 1990s: a quarterback who could pass or run with equal effectiveness.
Other teams in the Mountain West Conference had found such people: Brett Smith and Josh Allen (whatever happened to him?) at Wyoming, Cody Fajardo at Nevada, Grant Hedrick at Boise State, others with similar run-pass skills. The Lobos, though, had never found that guy. Was Burston the answer? In a phone interview, days before signing day 2017, Burston, who’d had two outstanding seasons at Contra Costa College in California, told the Journal he was eager to get to Albuquerque and get started. Days later, he signed a UNM letter of intent.
Didn’t happen. Burston never arrived, and that letter of intent became null and void when he didn’t enroll for the fall 2017 semester.
Why? Still unknown. Burston, whom I followed on Twitter (and still do, and he still follows me) did not reply when I messaged him asking him why he didn’t make it to New Mexico. Davie said only that, because Burston was no longer a UNM signee, he could not comment.
Then, Sunday, almost four years later, Burston did for Tarleton State — the Texans prefer simply “Tarleton” — what Davie might have imagined him doing for the Lobos. He bewitched, befuddled and bewildered the New Mexico State defense.
Tarleton, in its first season as
a Division I (FCS) program after moving up from Division II, demolished the Aggies 43-17 at the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Burston’s contributions: 252 yards passing, 79 yards net rushing, touchdown runs of 70 and 21 yards, touchdown passes of 86 and 29 yards.
But before we describe him as the one who got away — though he certainly got away from the Aggies on Sunday — let’s look at the entire picture.
Burston, for reasons unclear, did not play anywhere in 2017-18. He came to Tarleton in 2019 but was a backup that season, throwing only six passes. He played against NMSU on Sunday only because the Texans’ starter, Steven Duncan, was unavailable due to COVID-19 contact tracing issues.
So, if Burston can’t start for a Division II/ FCS program, how good could he be? The flip side: Ben Holmes, Tarleton’s starter in 2019, threw for 3,338 yards and 34 touchdowns with three interceptions that season. He’s now on the roster of the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League.
Duncan, who beat out Burston for the job this season, is a graduate transfer who played with some success at Western Kentucky.
Regarding Sunday, the Aggies were what we thought they were — a team, not good at all in 2019, that due to COVID-19 hadn’t played a game in almost 15 months. On Burston’s two touchdown runs, the NMSU defense was, well, defenseless.
Yet, Tarleton is no joke. The Texans went 11-1 and won a Lone Star Conference title in 2019. In their FCS debut on Feb. 13, they lost in overtime to McNeese State, a strong FCS program that hasn’t had a losing season since 2004. Only Tarleton’s margin of victory against the Aggies, not the victory itself, could be called a surprise.
Forgetting for a moment the NMSU defense, Burston displayed both speed and elusiveness on his two touchdown runs. Both his two TD passes hit wide receiver Gabe Douglas in stride.
Regarding UNM’s inability to find or develop “that guy,” it should be noted that, in 2015-16, the QB duo of Lamar Jordan (the runner) and Austin Apodaca (the passer) provided more than a reasonable facsimile — contributing mightily to the Lobos’ 16 wins in those two seasons.
But in Davie’s final three seasons: eight wins, 28 losses and no “that guy.”
Now, the question arises. Does secondyear coach Danny Gonzales have, will he have, such a quarterback?
Tevaka Tuioti has always had the tools but, even when healthy, hasn’t been consistent. Trae Hall is a fine runner, but his passing needs work. Rio Rancho grad Isaiah Chavez, unexpectedly brilliant in leading the Lobos to victories in their final two 2020 games? Too small a sample.
Incoming freshmen Bear Milacek and/or CJ Montes? Time and their talents will tell.
As for Burston, presumably he’ll return to backup status when Duncan returns.
Even so, he might have looked good in Cherry and Silver.