AMES — Daniel Burton seemed the ready-made Cowboy.
His parents, Robert and Charlotte, graduated from Oklahoma State and were longtime season ticket holders.
Of course, Burton owned and wore an orange and black jersey with pride.
And of course, the burly, gritty offensive lineman from Putnam City North (Okla.) High School cheered on the Cowboys countless times from the stands.
“I couldn’t even tell you,” said Burton, whose preferred color scheme has been cardinal and gold for three years. “Probably 40-50 games or something like that.”
But all that cheering and loyalty couldn’t conjure the one thing Burton desired most from his once-favorite university: a scholarship offer.
The Cowboys recruited him, but not to the point where that magical living room couch moment ever materialized.
“They never offered me,” Burton said. “Then Iowa State offered me, so I was like, ‘If you can’t play for them, then I’d love to play against them.”
So Burton, now a 6-6, 328-pound redshirt sophomore guard, eagerly signed on with Paul Rhoads’ Cyclones.
He committed to ISU less than two months before former Cyclone Jeff Woody barreled into the end zone to seal a stunning 37-31 double-overtime win over the No. 2 Cowboys.
He’ll need to do his part to forge a similarly gritty and clutch team-wide performance if ISU (1-3, 0-2) is to upset Oklahoma State (3-1, 1-0) again, this time in his old tailgating grounds, beginning at 11 a.m. at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“Every year I look forward to getting after those guys,” Burton said. “I know a few guys on the team — know of them, I guess, played against them in high school, no teammates or anything. It is in a certain sense special for me, but otherwise it’s another Saturday on the calendar and another week to get better and get after it.”
One area in need of marked improvement is the running game.
As Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said, that’s not a mystery to anyone who’s been paying attention.
“We all know we’re not running the ball well enough,” Rhoads said.
ISU ranks last in the Big 12 and 110th nationally in rushing yards per game at 104.0 — and more than half of that number has come from quarterback Sam Richardson.
Rhoads said the low output on the ground stems from offense-wide deficiencies, not one segment in particular.
Burton said improving those statistics emerge as a primary focus, bot not the only one, as the week progresses.
“You can’t put anything in one thing, but I think that’s definitely going to be something that we’ll put a lot of emphasis on,” Burton said. “We’ll try to come out prepared and re-energized.”
He identified a few key areas the line must address to help the ground game get on track.
“Getting more vertical push, handling movement better,” Burton said. “Things we have to continue to work on in practice and get our fundamentals squared away and keep building on what we have.”
It’s an ongoing construction project that also applies to battered bodies.
Burton was banged up in the Iowa win and missed some snaps in last week’s loss to Baylor.
He said he’s good to go for Saturday, though.
It’s a sort-of homecoming, after all, and he would’t miss it.
“Every game — it’s hard to play a whole game and make it out better than you started,” Burton said. “You’re obviously getting tired and sore and everything, but I’m doing good.”