10 semi-finalists named for Burlsworth Trophy
The Burlsworth Trophy selection committee has announced the top 10 semi-finalists for the 2019 award. The Burlsworth Trophy is awarded to the most outstanding football player in America who began his career as a walk-on. Brandon Burlsworth’s life is also the subject of a major motion picture “Greater,” which was released nationally in 2016.
The 2018 winner was receiver Hunter Renfrow from Clemson University. After receiving no division one scholarship offers, Renfrow walked-on at Clemson, where he had 186 receptions for 2133 yards and 15 touchdowns, four of which were in national championship games. The 2017 winner was Luke Falk, a three-year starter for Washington State, where he broke the PAC-12 record for career passing yards during his senior season. The 2015 and 2016 winner was Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield who was the first pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
The trophy is named in honor of Brandon Burlsworth. Without one D1 scholarship offer, Brandon walked on to the Razorback team in 1994, worked his way to being a three-year starter and was eventually named an All-American in 1998. Burlsworth was selected as the 63rd overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL draft, but was tragically killed in a car accident 11 days later. The Burlsworth Foundation was created in his memory and supports the physical and spiritual needs of children, in particular those children who have limited opportunities.
Following are the 2019 semi-finalists.
Ashtyn Davis, University of California, Safety/Kick Returner, SR
Davis has recorded 47 tackles this season with 27 solo stops. He has also forced two fumbles, intercepted a pass and returned 12 kicks for 149 yards. Davis is a four-time All-American in the 60 meter hurdles indoors and the 110 meter hurdles outdoors. He was a second-team midseason All-American selection by Athlon Sports and The Athletic and Davis is on the watch list for the Paul Hornung Award.
Alex Highsmith, Charlotte, Defensive End, SR
Highsmith ranks ninth nationally with 8.5 sacks this season. He has recorded 51 tackles, including 30 solo stops for the 49ers. Highsmith, who holds the school’s career record for sacks with 14.5, is on the Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List, given annually to the top defensive player in college football. He was a preseason All-Conference USA pick by league coaches after being named first team all-conference in 2018.
Joshua Kelley, UCLA, Running Back, SR
Kelley leads the Pac 12 in rushing with 107.6 yards per game. He is second in the league with 10 touchdowns, including four in a victory against Arizona State. Kelley ran for 1,243 yards and 12 touchdowns last season for the Bruins, earning All-Pac-12 First Team recognition by the Associated Press and ESPN.com. Kelley finished with 176 yards and one touchdown on 18 carriers in a win against Stanford earlier this season.
Rodrigo Blankenship, University of Georgia, Kicker, SR
Blankenship leads the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 89 points and has hit 100 percent of his extra point kicks this year. He has made 19 of 22 field goals attempts this season with a long of 50 yards. Blankenship, who started his career as a walk-on, is the NCAA active career leader in field goals with 72. Blankenship has hit six field goals of at least 50 yards in his career.
Joey Magnifico, University of Memphis, Tight End, SR
Magnifico has 18 catches for 333 yards and 2 touchdowns for the Tigers this year. He is averaging 18.5 yards per catch for Memphis and is only the second tight end in program history to eclipse 1,000 career receiving yards. Magnifico, who had a career-high 87 yards receiving against Temple, entered the season on the Mackey Award Watch List. He walked on at Memphis as a freshman.
Kenny Willekes, Michigan State University, Defensive End, SR
Willekes, a preseason All-America selection and last year’s Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, has 55 tackles this season. He has 21 solo tackles with 5.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries for the Spartans. Willekes was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Big Ten and the Walter Camp Football Foundation after recording seven tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks against Tulsa earlier this season.
Sam Renner, University of Minnesota, Defensive Lineman, SR
Renner has 28 tackles for the Gophers, including 13 solo with 3.0 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Renner, who had no Division I scholarship offers, was named to the Pro Football Focus National Team of the Week for his efforts against Nebraska (recorded one sack, four tackles and two pass breakups). Renner redshirted his first season coming off back-to-back knee injuries and did not play as a redshirt freshman.
Jan Johnson, Penn State University, Linebacker, SR
Johnson, who began his Penn State career as a preferred walk-on, has recorded 42 tackles this season. He earned his first career start as a junior in 2018 and has been in the starting lineup since. Johnson was named a team captain to begin the season and has been recognized as a Pro Football Focus Midseason All-American honorable-mention. He recorded a career-high 14 tackles in a week two game against Buffalo.
Josh Love, San Jose State University, Quarterback, SR
Love ranks No. 4 among all NCAA quarterbacks with 3,168 yards this season. He has thrown for 19 touchdowns, completing 64 percent of his passes with just four interceptions. Love guided the Spartans to their first win in school history against a Southeastern Conference opponent, throwing for 402 yards and two touchdowns against the University of Arkansas. Love has twice been named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Week this season.
Myles Bryant, University of Washington, Defensive Back, SR
Bryant entered the year as a Preseason All-Pac-12 First Team selection and has recorded 56 tackles with two interceptions. Bryant recorded a season-high two interceptions and a sack against Hawaii, earning Pac-12 Player of the Week recognition. He recorded a season-high nine tackles against BYU. Bryant, who began his career as a preferred walk-on at Washington, was named to preseason watchlists for the Nagurski, Thorpe and Bednarik awards.
The selection committee will announce the top three Burlsworth Trophy finalists on Nov. 19. Finalists will be recognized and the winner of the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy will be announced Dec. 9, at 12:45 pm at a luncheon in Springdale, Ark., hosted by the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation, in conjunction with the Springdale Rotary Club.