Kenny Willekes named 2019 Burlsworth Trophy winner

Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes was named the 10th winner of the Burlsworth Trophy on Monday (Dec. 9) at a ceremony hosted by the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation and the Springdale Rotary Club.

The award is given to the nation’s most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. On hand to present the trophy to Willekes was Marty Burlsworth, chairman and CEO of the Burlsworth Trophy.

Willekes, a preseason All-America selection and last year’s Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, has 59 tackles this season with 24 solo tackles, including 6.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. 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.

Willekes, named a Burlsworth semifinalist in 2018, did not receive scholarship offers from any Division I schools. He was invited to walk-on at Michigan State, where he redshirted as a true freshman in 2015. Willekes was named a mid-season All-American by Rivals.com in 2019. Willekes, 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, suffered a broken fibula in a bowl game to end last season and rehabbed in the offseason. He is the active career leader in tackles for loss per game (1.22).

Other finalists for the award were University of California safety and returner Ashtyn Davis and University of Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.

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.

Past Burlsworth Trophy winners include:
2018- Hunter Renfrow, Receiver- Clemson
2017- Luke Falk, Quarterback- Washington State
2016- Baker Mayfield, Quarterback- Oklahoma
2015- Baker Mayfield, Quarterback- Oklahoma
2014- Justin Hardy, Receiver- East Carolina
2013- Jared Abbrederis, Receiver- Wisconsin
2012- Matt McGloin, Quarterback- Penn State
2011- Austin Davis, Quarterback- Southern Mississippi
2010- Sean Bedford, Center- Georgia Tech

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