Springville • Dave Valeti thought it had to be a joke. Because there was no way the gangly 5-foot-11 freshman with a mop of golden hair could be serious.
It was the summer of 2019, when Valeti, Springville’s head football coach, walked out to the practice field to see the new crop of rising underclassmen.
And when Valeti arrived at the field, a kid he had never seen before immediately came up to introduce himself.
“He said, ‘I’m Ryder Burton and I’m going to be your quarterback,’” Valeti said. “He probably mentioned five times he moved in from Georgia. He tried talking real low with his voice, but it wasn’t working.
“I was a little like, ‘What is this kid doing?’”
It is a bold move for a freshman to introduce himself to the varsity coach in this way. Even bolder when you consider that Springville already had a senior quarterback and heir apparent who was Burton’s age. Yet the 155-pound kid with a voice yet to catch up to his aspirations fully believed what he was saying.
That is the thing about Ryder Burton: He is confident — delusionally, irrationally or perfectly so, depending on who you ask.
He’s always been that way. And when you think about it, you have to be at least a little overconfident to have the story Burton does. He stayed at Springville and beat out two quarterbacks in front of him. When he won the job, he spurned every college offer he got, banking that BYU would one day come calling. And now he thinks that an underrated kid out of an under-recruited place could be the face of BYU’s Big 12 era.
“The thing you have to understand about Ryder,” his mother, Bryanna, said, “is that everything he has put his mind to has come true.”
So far it has come true . He sits as the second highest-rated quarterback in the state of Utah. In his first season starting as a junior, he led Springville to the state championship game, throwing for 2,305 yards and 25 touchdowns in the process. And now he waits as a rising senior, committed to BYU, convinced that his right arm will launch the program onto the national stage.
“I am confident, maybe a little cocky,” Burton said. “But I haven’t been given anything. I worked for everything. That’s just who I am, if I say something I am going to do it. … One day, I want to win the Heisman.”
If it is to be so, then Burton’s Heisman story starts with his coach wanting him to change positions, to be a wide receiver instead.
Valeti tells the story as he sits inside the basement of Springville High School, in a damp coaches office with a watermelon slice in hand.
He speaks like a man who has seen it all, mostly because he has. He grew up here, started coaching in the 1990s. And he thought Burton was nothing more than a flashy, brash kid who comes into the program every so often. Talented, yes, but too overzealous to materialize.
But on New Year’s Eve after Burton’s sophomore season, Valeti went by the field and saw Burton standing at the end zone. It had been snowing all day and Burton had shoveled out a patch of grass where he was standing and a patch of grass 30 yards away with a trash can in it.
And alone, in the 30-degree air, Burton launched ball after ball into the trash can.
“I’m like maybe we have to give him a look,” Valeti said. “I realized, this kid is all about football. He always said he wanted to be a quarterback, he really wanted it.”
Over the next four months, Burton kept applying pressure on the coaching staff to give him a look. When others told him he should transfer if he wanted to play quarterback, Burton dug deeper into the fight. “I wanted to be the quarterback at Springville, not somewhere else. I knew I could,” he said.
He started driving to California to work with former BYU quarterback John Beck, improving his arm strength.
True to form, he wore Beck down with his bravado. The first time they met, he told Beck he could throw the ball 75 yards in the air. Beck didn’t believe him. When Burton heaved it 68 yards, Beck was impressed enough to start working with a 15-year-old.
By the time Burton’s junior season came around, Valeti agreed to split the reps between him and the incumbent starter. Burton had grown to 6-foot-3 and had an arm that jumped off the tape. He played with so much moxie that by week five, everyone knew the job was Burton’s.
“The other quarterback transferred out,” Velati said. “Burton texted me saying, ‘Wish he stayed, I told you I would beat him.’”
Burton led an unassuming Springville team to the state championship game. In the state semifinal, Burton commandeered an 80-yard drive with 1:40 left on the clock to win on a walk-off touchdown against Orem.
“He has the best arm I have ever seen in my years coaching here,” Springville offensive coordinator Willy Childs said. “That drive right there, best thing I have ever seen.”
Sticking to his guns
Growing up in Atlanta, Burton had only two schools he wanted to play for: Georgia and BYU.
There was no in between.
But in Springville, recruiting prospects don’t exactly meet those standards. It is viewed as a good football town, but not a pipeline for elite talent.
Burton’s rise to the state title game helped move the needle a little bit. San Jose State, Nevada, and Southern Utah showed interest. Burton, though, was holding out for BYU. He was convinced that BYU had to come at some point.
“I wanted to play Division I, right?” Burton said. “But it was always BYU.”
And in January of last year, BYU tight ends coach Steve Clark walked into Springville’s coaching office and asked to speak to Burton — intrigued by the arm talent. On the couch, Clark and Burton spoke about football and life. Burton told him how a kid from Springville can thrive at BYU, be the guy the program needs to usher into the Power Five.
“When he got up from the meeting, Clark said, ‘He reminds me of Zach Wilson,’” Valeti said. “Just the confidence and the way he plays.”
Burton told a coach on BYU’s staff he would commit to them by February.
“They said, ‘I hope so’,” Burton said. “And I did.”
On his official visit, he walked into offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick’s office and committed on the spot. It was his goal, he had his vision, he didn’t need anything else.
‘He’s going to win the Heisman’
Above Burton’s bed, there is a red oak poster board with a couple of pictures, numbers and phrases on it.
There is the number 67, for his national ranking according to 247Sports.
There is a photo of Burton losing the state championship game last season.
And there is a tweet from a BYU fan who wrote, “I still would rather have Zach Wilson’s little brother,” when he committed to the program.
“Oh I liked that tweet,” Burton said. “I think they deleted it later.”
This is how Burton thrives. He sees a slight, uses it as fuel, and attacks his goals. And those who think it’s crazy, or arrogant, at first, usually will come around.
Valeti certainly has. He has seen different sides of Burton now.
The fiery side, when he can yell at teammates for running an 18-yard dig instead of a 15-yard dig. The introspective side, where Burton will text him 100 times on a Saturday about a college football game and what he can do to incorporate it into the offense. And also the ambitious side, where Burton has told him he wants to be BYU’s day one starter.
“I was with my wife the other day and I said, ‘You know, he is going to win the Heisman,” Valeti said. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he wins the job at BYU, they win the Big 12 with him. And I’ve never said that before.”
Valeti knows it might be crazy to think that.
But it might be crazier not to believe in Ryder Burton.