Sitting in the waiting room of Avila Integrative Medicine on Pueblo’s south side, Antwon Burton anticipates a few moments of zen.
“I’ve got to get my weekly massage,” Burton says with a laugh. One can only imagine the physical toll a body like Burton’s has taken; a 6’2”, 300-pound former defensive lineman in the National Football League, Burton knows the physical and mental grind it takes to get to the next step.
Now a trainer, Burton is passing his knowledge to some of Pueblo’s best young athletes who wish to advance their skills to a higher level. Burton is the coach/trainer at Next Level Performance, a training program with its facility located within World Gym on Eagleridge Circle in Pueblo.
“When I first approached James (Sena, owner of World Gym), he believed in the vision,” Burton said. “We work well together to make it happen.”
That vision, Burton said, is to take not only kids, but everyone, to the next level.
“There’s always that complacency that people get when they feel like they’re good, but only good for their arena,” Burton said. “But there’s other arenas out there that people don’t believe in, because that’s not what they’re surrounded by.”
At Next Level Performance, Burton attempts to make those other arenas known and attainable, through physical, mental and academic training. Burton stresses the mental and academic phases, firmly believing that those are the most important components of being successful.
“Everyone thinks you only have to be big, strong and fast,” Burton said. “But when you get to that level, the mental part of it is much more important. Getting kids to where they understand the attention to detail, that’s what will separate you, and that’s where I come in.”
Burton believes the mental focus of the training is what makes Next Level Performance unique, and also preaches getting good grades to go along with working hard in the training room.
“You can’t have one without the other,” Burton said. “You have to get those A’s so you can hopefully get a scholarship.”
Growing up in Buffalo, New York, Burton didn’t see a lot of opportunity to get out of there, other than through football. Burton never had anyone to guide him or teach him how to reach the next level. Instead, he took it upon himself to work hard on his grades and on his football skills and ultimately earned a scholarship to play at Erie Community College in Orchard Park, New York.
“I did it myself,” Burton said. “I had my mom who cared about me, and loved me, but she didn’t know about football.”
After an all-conference season at ECC, Burton transferred to Division I Temple University, located in Philadelphia, Penn. Upon his arrival, Burton noticed a change of pace and skill level in Division I football.
“Even that jump from junior college to Division I, I don’t think people understand how huge it is,” Burton said. “It’s almost unfathomable.”
Burton proved he was fit for the level jump, though, posting 96 tackles in his two years there, including 66 tackles and three forced fumbles his senior year. Rightfully, Burton was getting some next-level hype, and was named one of College Football News’ top pro prospects.
Ultimately, Burton signed with the Denver Broncos in 2006, where he began an NFL career that would take him to nine teams in six seasons.
“The truth is, I had worked so hard on my grades and physically, that I never felt like I didn’t belong,” Burton said. “I felt like I earned it and deserved it. I was always on someone’s list and was good enough to keep playing…but Denver was really my home.”
After his stint in the NFL, Burton found his way to Pueblo from his wife, Terah, who grew up there. Now at Next Level Performance at World’s Gym, Burton works with Pueblo’s athletes and nonathletes of all ages who want to better themselves in whatever way they can.
Burton said he sees a lot of similarities between Pueblo and his hometown of Buffalo, and hopes to excavate the talent here and push them to the next level.
“I honestly feel like I see myself in a lot of kids here.”
“Pueblo is looked at as the little brother of Denver and Colorado Springs, maybe almost to the point of hopelessness,” Burton said. “But there is talent here, and that’s my goal is to help these talented kids make it out.”
The clientele at Next Level Performance ranges from young athletes like softball stars Hannah and Riley Segura, ages 11 and 13, to Pueblo West football standout Keith Hed, to high-profile clients like CSU-Pueblo President Lesley Di Mare.
“There’s opportunities out there for everybody,” Burton said. “When they come in, I make sure and tell them that it’s a commitment. I’m going to give 1,000 percent, and all I want them to give is 100 percent. If you can comply, then let’s roll.”
Burton also realizes that one of the nation’s top football programs, and colleges, is right here in his backyard, and encourages not to dismiss CSU-Pueblo because of where it is.
“People don’t realize that CSU-Pueblo graduates go home making $37,500 a year, and CSU-Fort Collins go out and make $35,000,” Burton said. “I’m sure a lot of Pueblo students aren’t really aware of that.”
Next Level Performance’s home base at World’s Gym includes an artificial turf field, state of the art workout equipment and weights, and caters to athletes of all ages and sports. Burton and NLP also provide help with academics, networking with potential colleges, and produce highlight videos.
“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Any Given Sunday’?” he asks. “The ‘game of inches’ speech that Al Pacino gives; truer words have never been spoken.”
And maybe that’s what it takes, those who are willing to “fight and die for that inch.” But for Burton, that inch is his belief in Pueblo’s young athletes and the attention to detail that makes overcoming the impossible—possible.