The story of Brandon Burlsworth is the definition of inspiration.
Brandon Vaughn Burlsworth was an offensive lineman for the Arkansas Razorbacks Football Team from 1995 to 1998.
He joined the team as a walk-on and eventually became an All-American. He was well known for his thick black glasses.
College Football career
Burlsworth graduated from Harrison High School in 1994, where he was drafted from across the state, and was a recruited football player at the University of Arkansas, despite having scholarship offers from some smaller colleges.
After wearing red in his freshman year (1994), he transformed his chubby 300 lb (140 kg) into a slender 260 lb (120 kg), and over the next two years, he regained up to a muscular 300 lb (140 kg). offensive guard.
By his second season in 1996, he had earned a scholarship and a starting position as a right guard on the offensive line.
Before his junior season in 1997, he was selected to be one of the team captains. Burlsworth’s efforts earned him All-SEC first-team honors in 1997 and 1998, and he was selected to the 1998 college football team.
He was Arkansas’ first All-American player since 1993, and its first player selected to a first-team since 1989. He was also named to the All-SEC Academic Honor Roll each year from 1995–1998.
Burlsworth played on two SEC West Division Championship Razorback football teams (1995, 1998).
Burlsworth graduated in 1998 from the University of Arkansas with a degree in business administration. The following year, he completed an MBA.
He was the first Razorback football player to complete a master’s degree before playing in his last game, the 1999 Citrus Bowl.
1999 NFL Draft
After his career with the Razorbacks, Burlsworth was invited to the NFL team.
On the combine, Burlsworth outscored all linemen with a 4.88 40-yard run. He weighed 225 pounds on the bench 28 times, weighed 308 pounds, and measured a slight notch below 6–4.
During the 1999 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts selected Burlsworth with the 63rd pick in the third round.
Although he only participated in a few training camp practices and never played a game in the NFL, he had impressed then-Indianapolis Colts coach Howard Mudd and was projected to start the Colts’ opener.
Eleven days after being drafted
Brandon Burlsworth (September 20, 1976 — April 28, 1999) was killed in a car accident near Alpena, Arkansas, on April 28, 1999, on his way back to his hometown of Harrison after a workout in Fayetteville.
Brandon was on his way home from the University of Arkansas to pick up his mother and attend church when the accident happened Burlsworth’s vehicle clipped an oncoming 18-wheeler, swerved back into his lane, and then hit another tractor-trailer head-on.
The stretch around Carrollton in which the crash occurred was not particularly rugged.
A state police report said that “for unknown reasons,” Burlsworth’s car drove left of the center line and hit the left front fender of a tractor-trailer.
After returning to its lane briefly, the car crossed the center line again and hit a second tractor-trailer.
He was buried on May 2, 1999, in Gass Cemetery in Omaha, Arkansas.
Shortly after his death, Burlsworth’s jersey number 77, was permanently retired in a ceremony in Arkansas’ first home game of the 1999 season.
It is only the second number retired (the other is number 12, retired in honor of Clyde Scott) by the University of Arkansas.
Burlsworth’s locker in the Razorback locker room is lined with glass, preserved for future players and fans, in his honor.
Burlsworth was selected to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2002, and the University of Arkansas Letterman Association Hall of Honor in 2004.
In 2013, Bleacher Report named Burlsworth the №1 Greatest of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era.
The Burlsworth Trophy
The Burlsworth Trophy is named after Brandon and was made in 2010. This trophy is presented each year to “College football’s most outstanding player who began their career as a walk-on”.
Brandon Burlsworth Foundation.
Houston Nutt, Arkansas Razorback Head Football Coach from 1998 through 2007, started the saying, “Do it the Burls Way”, a saying that means do it the right way, even when no one is looking. The saying is the motto of the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation.
After his death, family and friends established the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation in honor of his work ethic and Christian values.
The Christian organization’s mission is to support the physical and spiritual needs of children, in particular those children who have limited opportunities.
The Foundation’s logo prominently features Burlsworth’s signature black-framed glasses. The foundation makes its money via donations and the selling of Burlsworth Merchandise.
On the foundation’s website, they sell things from books and movies on Brandon to shirts hats to raise money for their cause.
Brandon’s jersey #77 is retired at the University of Arkansas. It is only the second retired football jersey in school history.
His locker is enclosed in a glass case in the Razorback locker room.
The Harrison Youth Center in Harrison, Arkansas, was renamed the Brandon Burlsworth Youth Center in May 1999.
The Indianapolis Colts wore his initials, BB, on their helmets for the 1999 season.
The Indianapolis Colts honored him by giving each family member and the University of Arkansas Athletic Director a $5,000 (USD) check at halftime of the first Colts game after Brandon died in 1999.
Through the Eyes of a Champion: The Brandon Burlsworth Story
In 2001, the book Through the Eyes of a Champion: The Brandon Burlsworth Story written by Jeff Kinley was released.
The book was praised for its authentic, inspirational portrayal of Brandon’s story. The book contains a foreword by former University of Arkansas Athletic Director, Frank Broyles, and it was the inspiration for a movie (see below).
The book was re-released in August 2016 as a tie-in with the movie, renamed; Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story.
Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story (Movie)
A screenplay titled Greater: The Brandon Burlsworth Story was written based on the book.
Brian Reindl, a former real estate investor and fellow University of Arkansas graduate, spent eight years working on the screenplay.
A self-described “walk-on filmmaker”, Reindl decided to finance and produce the film.
“Do it the Burls Way”
Houston Nutt (Arkansas Razorback Head Football Coach from 1998 through 2007)
When people would ask Brandon, ‘How much do you want it?’ Well, let me tell you…Brandon always REALLY wanted it. He wanted to work hard and he wanted to win. — Houston Nutt (Brandon’s Arkansas Razorback Head Football Coach)
Brandon Burlsworth was a great role model for his work ethic, self-improvement, and Christian values.
Dedicated to honoring the memory of:
The Greatest Walk-On in the History of College Football.