WALTHAM — It had been a while since Vincent Burton had stepped onto the football field at Bentley — one year, six months, and 19 days, to be exact — but as soon as he arrived last weekend, the memories came flooding back.
The 152 yards on 37 carries. The 1-yard rush for a touchdown that eventually stood as the game-winner. The hoisting of the Division 4A Super Bowl championship trophy after Blue Hills Regional’s narrow 16-14 win over Cathedral.
Sure, the atmosphere at Saturday’s 30th Shriners Football Classic was a little different than it was on that chilly day in early December 2011 — the weather was hot and hazy, the game merely an exhibition this time around — but Burton enjoyed it just the same.
For the first time since November, he was back on the gridiron for an actual game.
“I loved it. It was a great experience,” said Burton.
“We [the team] met two weeks ago, got to bond a little, got to learn the new offense. It all molded together. It was nice.”
In the annual all-star game featuring graduating seniors from Eastern Massachusetts that raises money for the Shriners Hospital in Boston, the South claimed a 21-7 win over the North.
Burton, a three-time Player of the Year by the Globe (Division 4 once and 4A twice) who racked up the sixth-highest career rushing total (5,530 yards) in state history, represented Blue Hills Regional with pride.
Wareham High grad Darien Fernandez, along with Jalen Green of Quincy, played the majority of the snaps in the backfield for the South squad; their skill sets were more suited to the offense instituted by South head coach Dave Bohane (Canton High).
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Burton, however, made the most of his opportunities, most notably on a pair of momentum-changing plays in the first half.
The South was on top, 7-0, late in the first quarter when Green found a hole on the right side and ripped off an 81-yard scoring run to double the margin.
“I saw my boy Vince made a good block behind me, and I looked back to see if anybody was behind me,” said the appreciative Green, who earned offensive MVP honors for the South.
“There wasn’t really people there, [and] I scored, so it’s all good.”
Burton’s next big play came midway through the second, fresh off a South timeout.
On a fourth-and-2 call, Burton successfully converted a fake punt, his 5-yard rush good for a first down and South was able to kill four more minutes off the clock.
“We put it in the first week [of practice],” said a smiling Burton of the trick play. “I just intercept [the ball] and pretty much the lineman pulls and I just hit the hole. My whole objective was to get the first down and I was ready for it.”
Burton and his South teammates walked away winners in their only reprieve from the drought of competitive football action until September.
For Burton, as well as Wareham defensive back Anthony Abbott and Hopkinton offensive lineman Jake Lehman — two of his South teammates — that next taste of game activity will come on Sept. 7, when they will suit up for Stonehill College in their season opener against Bloomsberg.
Burton said the Shriners Classic served as good, albeit one-time, preparation for what to expect in college
“It’s very competitive — definitely more than it usually is playing in the regular season. It’s a bunch of all-stars playing on one team,” Burton said. “That’s how college is. College is a team of all-stars, so it’s a good learning experience to show you how hard you have to work to perform and excel at this level.”
In addition to his part-time summer position at the Randolph Town Hall, Burton has also kept pace with a workout plan put together by the coaching staff at Stonehill.
“It’s very challenging — definitely more than we did in high school,” Burton said. “But I’m getting after it. It’s not too tough.”
Captains’ practices started earlier this month, the second coming the day after Burton’s all-star endeavor, but the regular season won’t start for more than two months.
That just made the Shriners Classic all that much more of a tease.
“We’re all just lucky to be out here playing. There are thousands of kids that wish they were out here, so we’re all thankful for that,” Burton said. “I’m itching to get back out there.”