As the college football regular season winds down this weekend with a several marquee matchups, including conference championship games, we are entering the college football awards season. For me, the week always brings back great memories of years past and the whirlwind which is the college football awards tour.
From the National Football Foundation Dinner in New York City, to the ESPN College Football Awards Show in Orlando, the week is full of banquets and festivities culminating with the Heisman Trophy ceremony a week from Saturday. Whether it was Shawn Andrews, Darren McFapen, Jonathan Luigs, D.J. Williams or Joe Adams, through the years Razorback student-athletes have proudly represented the University of Arkansas and our state in the national spotlight.
And while this year, the Razorbacks do not have a student-athlete in the mix for those national awards, that doesn’t mean the University of Arkansas won’t be well represented.
On Sunday, three college football student-athletes from around the country will arrive in Northwest Arkansas to take vie for what has quickly become one of the nation’s most coveted college football awards, the Burlsworth Trophy.
When Brandon Burlsworth came to the University of Arkansas in 1994, he was a long shot to ever get on the field. The Razorbacks had entered the SEC only two years earlier and even though Arkansas was weren’t flush with talent, Burlsworth seemed overmatched.
Burlsworth worked his way to being a three-year starter and was eventually named an All-American in 1998. He was selected as the 63rd overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL Draft competing the journey from walk on to All-American and then on to NFL draft pick.
Tragically his storybook rise took an unanticipated and devastating turn when Brandon was lost only weeks after his final Razorback game and 11 days after he was drafted by the Colts in a car accident as he traveled home to Harrison.
But it was Burlsworth’s determination and inspiring outlook on life that made his contributions to the Razorback program far greater than the blocks he made to protect quarterback Clint Stoerner. More than 15 years after his passing, Brandon still inspires those around the country and in college football with the Burlsworth Trophy.
The Burlsworth Trophy is annually given to the most outstanding collegiate football player who began his career as a walk-on. This year will mark the fourth time the Burlsworth Trophy has been awarded. Georgia Tech’s Sean Bedford was the first winner in 2010 and Southern Mississippi quarterback Austin Davis won in 2011. But perhaps, last year’s winner, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, fits the mold better than any recipient thus far. McGloin has risen to become the quarterback of the Oakland Raiders after going undrafted after his senior season. Sounds like a story fitting of a Burlsworth Trophy winner.
On Monday in Springdale, three finalists will attend a luncheon at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center to learn whether they are the next name to be aped to the Burlsworth Trophy. And whether the winner is Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, Missouri guard Max Copeland or Tulsa running back Trey Watts, the legacy of Brandon Burlsworth will continue to grow. It is a legacy that began at the University of Arkansas, but now extends far beyond our state and throughout college football.
Razorback Road is a weekly column published on Thursdays by Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor. Trainor is a graduate of the University of Arkansas and has worked for Razorback Athletics for more than 20 years.