(Posted Dec. 21, 2020)
Jason Hunt, head coach of the Madison-Plains High School varsity football team, announced on Dec. 17 that senior Paul Bryant is a 2020 recipient of the Burlsworth Character Award.
The award honors players who may or may not be top athletic performers but who give 100 percent on the field and stand as moral examples to their teams.
The award is named after Brandon Burlsworth who was a walk-on player at the University of Arkansas in 1994. Through his work ethic and determination, he not only earned a scholarship but also was named team captain, all-SEC in 1997-98, and first-team all-American in 1998. He was the university’s first all-American in a decade.
Burlsworth also excelled in the classroom. He was named to the all-SEC Academic Honor Roll 1995-1998 and was the first football player in the university’s history to earn a master’s degree before playing his last game. The Indianapolis Colts selected him as the 63rd overall pick in the 1999 National Football League draft. After minicamp, his coaches projected him to start as a rookie.
Tragically, Burlsworth was killed in a head-on automobile collision 11 days after the draft. The University of Arkansas created an endowment in his name. Each year, the school awards 18 $5,000 academic scholarships and one $10,000 walk-on athletic scholarship to upperclassmen at the university who exemplify Burlsworth’s qualities.
The Brandon Burlsworth Foundation engages in various charitable endeavors, including providing free eye care to thousands of underprivileged children. In, 2010, the Burlsworth Trophy was created to honor the achievements of the walk-on athlete. Each year, it goes to the most outstanding Division I college football player who began his career as a walk-on.