Burton was a star on Ara Parseghian's late 1950s Northwestern Wildcats football teams. Named all-Big Ten in 1958 and 1959, and All-America in 1959, Burton left Northwestern having broken school records for most points in a career (130), most points in a season (76), most touchdowns in a career (21). Burton led Northwestern in all-purpose yards in 1957, 1958, and 1959.
Burton was the Boston Patriots' first-ever American Football League draft choice in 1960. He was the first Patriot to rush for over 100 yards: 127 against the Denver Broncos on 23 October 1960, as well as numerous other firsts for the Patriots. His 91-yard touchdown return on a missed field goal in 1962 remains a Patriot record. He compiled 1,009 combined yards in rushing and receiving in 1962, and provided strong depth at running back for the Patriots from 1960 through 1965.
After leaving professional football, this former child of poverty became an eminently successful motivational speaker who then made a major financial and emotional gift to needy children. In Massachusetts, he donated land for and established the Ron Burton Training Village, which holds free summer camps for disadvantaged inner-city youths and a 5-week sports camp program once every summer.
Ron Burton was very active as an adult leader with the Boy Scouts of America. He was a member of the National Executive Board of the BSA and of the Northeast Region Executive Board. He received the Silver Antelope award for distinguished service to youth on the Regional level and the Silver Buffalo award for distinguished service on a National level.