John Engleman, Mitchell Communications Group
Kenny Willekes Named 2019 Burlsworth Trophy Winner
Willekes Chosen by Burlsworth Trophy Selection Committee
SPRINGDALE, Ark., Dec. 9, 2019 – Monday, Michigan State’s Kenny Willekes was named tenth winner of the Burlsworth Trophy in Springdale, Ark. at a ceremony hosted by the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation and the Springdale (Ark.) 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.
The Burlsworth Trophy Presentation ceremony was held at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center.
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.
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, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, 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, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player. Davis walked on the Cal track team and after several unsuccessful attempts to contact the football staff, joined the team in the spring of 2016. He was named first-team All-Pac 12 by the Associated Press, Athlon Sports and Pro Football Focus in 2018, recording 56 tackles and an interception with an 89-yard kick return. Davis was recognized as Cal’s top special team’s player in 2016 and 2017.
Blankenship ranks No. 14 nationally and second in the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 92 points and has hit 100 percent of his extra-point kicks this year for the fourth-ranked Bulldogs (9-1). He has made 19 of 23 field goals attempts this season with a long of 50 yards. Blankenship, who started his career as a preferred walk-on, is the NCAA active career leader in field goals with 72. Blankenship, 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, has hit six field goals of at least 50 yards in his career and as a sophomore in 2017. That season Blankenship secured a scholarship spot on the team and hit field goals of at least 50 yards in the Rose Bowl and National Championship Game. Blankenship holds the record for longest field goal in Rose Bowl history at 55 yards. He is a semi-finalist for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation’s top placekicker.
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
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 that have limited opportunities. Brandon Burlsworth’s life is also the subject of a major motion picture, “GREATER”, which was released in 2016.
**Photo Credit: Gary Meek