UNIVERSITY PARK - Rashaad Burton has yet to play a single down on defense for SMU, but the former Tyler Junior College defensive back has already made quite the impression on Mustangs defensive coordinator Van Malone.

"The fact is that he's a good kid who works hard for us and he actually has given us an opportunity here at fall camp to use him at safety and corner," Malone said. "That speaks to his versatility and the fact that he is in both of those meeting rooms, he's paid attention to what's being installed, he's learning the defense just like these other guys, but he's taken it upon himself to learn both of those positions, learn everything that's going on in the secondary, so we're excited about his progression and hoping that he continues to progress."

In a nutshell, Malone summed up the mentality Burton, who had one interception and one forced fumble in 11 games with the Apaches in 2014 before redshirting last fall at SMU, has had ever since he came to the Ponies as a walk-on prior to last season.

"I feel like I can do whatever the team needs me to do," Burton said. "If they need me to be there just as a supporting role player or to play, I'm ready to do whatever they need me to do to help the team."

Now a sophomore, Burton feels spending last season as a redshirt, which allowed him to completely immerse himself in the SMU defense, to properly acclimate himself to his new surroundings and to a new group of teammates, is an experience that will pay big dividends for him as soon as Sept. 3, when SMU opens the season at North Texas.

"(Redshirting showed me) just that I'm learning and getting better every day," Burton said. "I think that it really helps to take time, learn the system and get as much as you can mentally out of the game."

And spending last season learning the scheme and the program, now in its second year under current head coach Chad Morris, allowed him to further develop his relationship with Malone, someone who he quickly built a strong rapport with.

"I love coach Malone," Burton said. "He's a great coach and he's always wanting us to get better. He keeps us grounded. He's always pushing us to get better with our techniques and he really cares about us."

Burton also feels that the season he spent with the Apaches has also played a big role in helping him acclimate to being a walk-on in Division I.

"It was a good year for me (at TJC)," Burton said. "I played a majority of the time. In JUCO, it's different. I feel like it humbles you."

That humility and willingness to do whatever it takes is something Malone has seen from many walk-ons during his time in coaching, but adding Burton's versatility to the mix makes his progression over the past year on the Hilltop even more impressive, both to his coaches as well as to his teammates.

"He's been an attentive kid since he's been here," Malone said. "He's been a guy who has always been willing to help out. He's been on scout teams. That normally is how it works. As a walk-on, if you show yourself that I'll do whatever I can to help the team, coaches and teammates, they normally appreciate that, and that's what he has done and that's what he continues to do, so that's exciting for me as a coach."

Stephen Hunt is a Frisco-based freelance writer.

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