Former Bronco, entrepreneur shares lessons from the game of life

Antwon Burton lives by the playbook. 

“Every offensive football play is for the touchdown,” he said. “Every defensive play is designed to stop you for zero gain or a loss.”

What matters, he told a small-but-enthusiastic crowd at the Colorado Springs Black Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural business expo in April, is how you respond. 

“You have to reinvent yourself. Every time you level up in life, you have to be a better version of yourself,” he said. 

The 35-year-old former defensive tackle followed that model out of poverty, into college, onto the Temple University gridiron and eventually all the way to the hallowed turf of Denver’s Mile High Stadium. After retiring from the NFL, he reinvented himself as an entrepreneur and opened Next Level Performance in Pueblo, where he trains 186 athletes from across the Front Range. He also operates his own media company. 

“I train 9-year-olds, 70-year-olds, hockey, lacrosse, tennis,” he said.  

Now, in his most recent iteration, Burton has added to his busy schedule the title of executive director of the Professional Bull Riders’ PBR Sport Performance Center. The 18,000-square-foot facility opened May 3 in Pueblo. 

It may seem like an odd jump, moving from the gridiron to the arena, but for Burton, “Being athletic is athletic. Your core is your core, your strength is your strength.” 

And strength — both physical and psychological — is something Burton has to spare. 

He spoke candidly of a challenging childhood in Buffalo, New York. His parents were estranged, he told expo attendees, and he had little contact with his father during his early years. That changed at 11, when Burton was sent to live with his dad. 

His father, Burton said, “resented” him. His home life was chaotic and abusive. He was told he wouldn’t amount to much. 

He found his escape through sports. 

“The first time I played football, he didn’t even know that I played,” Burton said of his father. 

“I know what it feels like to feel inadequate. I know what it feels like to be alone.”

“If you are a positive person and you do good things, if you carry yourself with integrity, you can and do influence people.” — Antwon Burton

His solution? 

“Push past it.” 

Football carried him first to Erie Community College in Orchard Park, New York, then to Temple University in Philadelphia. There, his 96 tackles in 22 games (16 of which he started), earned him a draft rating. 

Eventually the agents started calling, and Burton found his way to Denver as a free agent. He joined the active roster on Nov. 12, 2006, and made a professional debut with an assisted tackle that same day. 

He played two seasons (2006 and ’07) with the Broncos, bounced between the Cincinnati Bengals, the Kansas City Chiefs and the then-St. Louis Rams in 2008, and finished his NFL career with the Carolina Panthers in 2009. 

Burton and his wife eventually settled in her hometown of Pueblo, where he went into business for himself. 

Through all the adversity and challenges, Burton said, he never doubted himself. And that unflappable sense of self and desire to make a positive impact have resulted in a man who is capable of influencing both new entrepreneurs and up-and-coming athletes.

“I’m kind of living my dream,” he told the audience at the DoubleTree by Hilton. “I can do what I want to do. I can mentor people, I can put myself in a position of leadership.

“If you are a positive person and you do good things, if you carry yourself with integrity, you can and do influence people.”