One can't blame Burton football coach Anthony Rollins for being on cloud 9 these days.
Considering Burton didn't field a varsity team last year, it's no wonder Rollins feels extra optimistic entering the 2013 season.
“It's a great feeling to be playing varsity football again,” Rollins said. “But I'm not feeling good just because we're back — I think this team can contend for a league championship. You see our team, and we pass the eye test.
“In years past, we haven't necessarily had those teams with the combination of size and athletic ability. Right now, we're sitting pretty good.”
Burton canceled its varsity season last year in order to develop talent and not subject its young and thin roster to a rough time in the Academic Athletic Association.
Rollins' optimism is set on a solid foundation, as his 7-1 junior varsity team from last year is moving up. The Pumas are running a spread offense, with sophomore quarterback Kobe Chau at the helm. Chau sees the field well and has picked up the offense quickly. He'll have some talented targets in wide receivers Bruce Salise (5-foot-6, 150 pounds) and Than Than (5-5, 135).
“Bruce and Than aren't the biggest guys around, but they're both very quick and make plays in space,” Rollins said. “Than has very sticky hands, like a frog catching flies. He just catches everything.”
Salise and Than will also double as cornerbacks on Burton's defense, which is led by standout linebacker Aaron Hernandez. Two-way lineman Dejante Martin, a 6-2, 290-pound senior, has drawn rave reviews despite limited experience. Martin played in the school's marching band up until last year, when he decided to try out for football.
“We want Dejante to dominate his man and lead both of our lines,” Rollins said. “He's going to be physical and hopefully the rest of the guys can carry that same attitude.”
With 28 players on the roster — a decent number in the AAA — the Pumas are hoping to make up for lost time. Rollins said success in the AAA boils down to how many quality athletes a team has on its roster.
“We have a good amount of athletes,” he said. “We're still working on our confidence and execution, and it's going to take the whole team to contribute because we very seldomly have one person we can hand the ball or throw to and expect to score on every play. We'll win on scheme, reading coverages, looking at film and getting a team's tendencies down, and guys believing in the plan every week and going out and carrying it out.”