Back when Trey Burton played football for Venice High from 2007-09, it was apparent to everyone who watched that he was special.
He stuck out for his dual-threat ability at the quarterback position, scoring a combined 76 touchdowns across his junior and senior seasons for the Indians and earning first-team all-state selections each year.
But while he’s very clearly special on the field, it’s Burton’s personality and generosity off the field that truly sets him apart.
“Everything he does is not for his glory, it’s for his faith and what he believes in,” said Clay Burton, Trey’s younger brother. “He doesn’t do it for the fame, it’s just the kind of guy he is. He wants to help as many people as he can.”
Now, as the starting tight end for the Chicago Bears, Burton is starting to be recognized for his charitable efforts, as he is one of 32 NFL nominees for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
The award, given annually to the player who best represents excellence on and off the field, was named for Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton after his death in 1999. The winner of the award will be announced during NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special that will air on Feb. 2, the night before the Super Bowl.
“It means a lot,” Burton said of the nomination. “Anyone from any of the 32 teams who’s nominated should feel really honored. But the fact that I’m in Chicago, where Walter played, to me that means a lot more.”
Burton has most recently involved himself in causes such as the International Justice Mission (IJM), which works to end slave trafficking and an organization called “By the Hand,” which focuses on helping struggling students in Chicago get the help and attention they deserve.
With such a busy schedule during the NFL season, Burton used his time off this past summer to get to work, which involved him visiting the Dominican Republic with IJM and helping out with local students in need of support.
Along with donating his time, Burton also pledged to donate $1,000 to IJM for every catch made this season and $2,500 for every touchdown he scores this season. Burton has 54 catches for 569 yards and six touchdowns as he readies for a playoff game against his old team – the Philadelphia Eagles – on Sunday afternoon.
“I enjoy people and giving them hope,” he said. “A lot of people watch football, and you don’t really realize how many people watch until you go to a different country and people are speaking a different language and still knowing who you are, which is pretty cool. So I like to use that influence to give people hope and sow into people. Tell them you’re proud of them and try to change their view of things. It’s pretty sweet.”
While this is the first time Burton is getting national attention for his efforts, giving back to the community is nothing new for the former Indian.
Starting back at Venice High, Burton and the rest of the football team would hand out turkeys to families in need at the Salvation Army for Thanksgiving, and also hand out presents at Christmas time.
It’s a tradition that still lives on at Venice.
“It was cool to do that as a team and support other people in the community together,” Burton said of volunteering in high school. “But it was also really fun to give back and bring joy to people and hopefully make they day better.”
Along with volunteering his time around the holidays, giving back has been a way of life for the Burtons. Growing up in Venice, both Trey and Clay would often spend their free time at the local YMCA or the Pop Warner fields, coaching up the next generation of Indians.
As Burton continued to find success, his connection to the community only grew.
“Growing up in Venice, we would try to do as much as we could around the community and help,” Clay said. “Now it’s kind of instilled in us to share our blessing and talk to people. He was doing that back at Venice, then he continued that at Florida, and now it’s on to an even bigger stage in the NFL. As he’s moved up in his career, he’s been able to do more because he’s been blessed with more. He’s always had that giving spirit and that will to help people.”
Ever since he went off to play football at the University of Florida, and eventually the NFL, Burton has kept coming back to Venice – whether it be to host a football camp, support the team during Homecoming, or simply be with his friends and family.
As his excellence on the field was easy to see, it wasn’t long before Burton became known for who he is off the field. Despite being the star of the team, Burton could typically be found as the last player in the locker room, cleaning up after himself and his teammates.
Later in high school as he became a Christian, he invited the Venice football team out to his church to share his commitment to God with them.
For those who have watched Burton grow into the man he’s become, being nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in the NFL is no surprise.
“He’s a great leader,” said Indians coach John Peacock, who coached Burton at Venice. “People find it very easy to follow him. His core values and his morals are extremely high, and he’s just a really good person. And now, he’s got a stage for it.
“It’s not just for what he does athletically. He’d be the same guy he is today whether he’s playing in the NFL or just a normal person.”
Though his career in the NFL is still in its youthful stages, Burton has been a role model for Venice Indians for quite some time now.
After being raised from humble means in a family without a father, Burton had every reason to give up or not make it along the way, but he continues to push forward.
“I know he means a lot to people in the community,” Peacock said of Burton in Venice. “Obviously, he has a real strong effect on the youth in our community. Kids don’t always have a father to look at to show them the example, but you can always look to that guy.
“(Burton) could’ve used excuses along the way, but he didn’t. I think this is all just a testament to the man he is.”