College football teams need Walk-on players for practice purposes. With scholarship limits, it’s hard to have enough depth to carry teams through especially the Spring before the next recruiting class comes in. Some of those Walk-on players get discouraged and quit. Some stick it out, but never see any action on game day. Some get some playing time when the team has beaten another team thoroughly and then some become starters. Still further, some Walk-on players become stars.
One such player happened to be Brandon Burlsworth at Arkansas. Brandon Burlsworth AA
Burlsworth going from complete unknown to first team All American and being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts is the stuff that births legends. The sad tragedy that followed was enough to have
trophies named after him.
Each year, the best Walk-on player is given the Burlsworth Trophy in honor of not only their own skills on the football field, but also for Brandon Burlsworth.
Unlike the famous Heisman Trophy and so many other awards like the Butkus, Lombardi and Outland Trophies just to name a few, the Burlsworth Trophy is almost brand new.
The first ever winner of the Trophy was in the season when the award went to Georgia Tech senior Center, Sean Bedford.
Sean Bedford was a brilliant kid coming out of Gainesville, Georgia. He was only 6’1″ and was not recruited by anyone other than Ivy League schools which should tell you something. He was a bit undersized but he wanted to play Division 1 football. Choosing Georgia Tech, he decided to try out for the football team and chase his dream of playing in Division 1.
As an official Walk-on, it was not an easy path for Bedford. But, he persevered and in the Spring of 2009, Bedford was named the starter at Center.
He was All ACC in 2009 and in 2010, he was awarded the first ever Burlsworth Trophy. How fitting that the first ever Burlsworth Trophy would land in the hands of a 6-1, 280 Offensive Lineman.
At Georgia Tech, Bedford majored in aerospace engineering.
The Burlsworth became like the Heisman for Walk-on players in 2011 with skill position players taking over.
The 2011 winner was Southern Mississippi’s Quarterback Austin Davis.
Davis had two scholarship offers coming out of high school for football, but he chose to play baseball at Southern Miss instead. At Southern Miss, he decided to try football. He redshirted his first season in 2007, but then earned the starters job for the 2008 season. As a redshirt freshman, Davis was
fantastic throwing for 3,128 yards and 21 Touchdowns.
Davis had an injury shortened sophomore season, but recovered and finished his playing days with more yardage than Brett Favre. The 6-2, 220 Davis signed a free agent contract with the St Louis Rams and he’s played as back up with several different teams.
Penn State Quarterback Matt McGloin won the award in 2012.
2012 was the first season after Joe Paterno was no longer the Nittany Lion coach. With new head coach Bill O’Brien, McGloin helped his team to an 8-4 season. McGloin was one of the most improved players in the country throwing for 3,271 yards and 24 Touchdowns. McGloin is not the prototype NFL Quarterback at 6-1, 210, but, he signed with the Oakland Raiders after the 2012 season. The Scranton, Pennsylvania native is still active with the Raiders and has started for them at times.
Wisconsin’s big play Wide Receiver Jared Abbrederis was the 2013 winner.
Former Walk-on Abbrederis played all 4 seasons for the Badgers and he had a spectacular season in 2013 with 78 receptions for 1,081 yards. From Walk-on to one of the more productive Wide Receivers in Wisconsin football history is quite the success story. In the 2014 NFL Draft, Abbrederis was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. He was a reserve for the Packers for 3 seasons before signing with the Detroit Lions.
Producing the 2014 winner was East Carolina’s Justin Hardy.
How did Hardy get missed by colleges? As a senior, Hardy hauled in a very impressive 121 receptions for 1,494 yards. That was after catching 114 passes for 1,284 yards. As a sophomore,
Hardy caught 88 passes for 1,105 yards. He even caught 64 passes as a freshman.
Defenses are surely glad that Justin Hardy does not have a another year. Hardy was a 4th round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons.
Current Oklahoma Quarterback Baker Mayfield has won the past 2 Burlsworth Trophies and will likely win it for the third time in a row in the 2017 season.
There are a number of other former Walk-on players in any given season and 2017 should be no different. Washington State Quarterback Luke Falk was originally a non-scholarship player as is Clemson Wide Receiver Hunter Renfrow who was extremely important for the Tigers the past 2 seasons and especially in the championship game against Alabama.
Luke Del Rio walked on at Alabama before eventually winding up as a starter at Florida. There are other Walk-ons which is part of what makes college football so great.
Walk-on football players are the classic underdog story and it’s hard to not pull for that guy.