LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky senior wide receiver/punt returner Charles Walker has been named one of the 63 candidates for the 2017 Burlsworth Trophy, it was announced in conjunction with the Springdale (ARIZ) Rotary Club.
In the award’s eighth year, the Trophy is named in honor of Brandon Burlsworth, former University of Arkansas walk-on and All-American offensive lineman. Burlsworth's life is also the subject of a major motion picture, "GREATER", which was released last year. The Burlsworth Trophy is given to the most outstanding football player who began his career as a walk-on and has shown outstanding performance on the field. Each nominee must have begun his first season of participation with FBS (D1) football program without financial aid of any kind from his university’s athletic department.
Walker, a native of Louisville, Ky., came to Kentucky as a walk-on wide receiver in 2014. He quickly earned playing time, seeing action in all 12 games, mostly on special teams.
As a sophomore, he was again a weapon on special teams while fighting his way into the wide receiving rotation. He ranked second on the team with six special teams tackles. He also earned an opportunity to return punts, returning three for a 7.3 yard average. As a receiver, he caught five passes for 61 yards.
Entering fall camp of his junior season, Walker was surprised by head coach Mark Stoops when he was awarded a scholarship during a team meeting.
“He really exemplifies everything you want in a player,” Stoops said. “He has a great attitude…He just has a smile on his face, has a competitive attitude, but he’s also contagious. He’s fun to be around and does everything you ask him to do.”
Because of his sure hand and competitive drive, Walker earned UK’s primary punt-returner role in 2016, averaging 7.8 yards per return. He also had 34 yards receiving on four catches. Against Mexico State, he returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown, marking Kentucky’s first punt return for a touchdown since Randall Cobb accomplished the feat in 2010. It also was the longest punt return since Cobb had a 73-yard return for a touchdown in 2009.
In seven games this season, Walker has returned four punts for 86 yards (21.5 yards per return). He also is the fourth-leading receiver on the team with 11 catches for 129 yards. Against Florida, he racked up a career-high 115 all-purpose yards after recording a career-high four catches for 28 yards along with 87 yards on three punts. He had two catches for 13 yards in the win over South Carolina.
Walker also excels in the classroom as he is a two-time Southeastern Conference Honor Roll member and a five-time member of the Dean’s List. He is set to graduate in December with a double major in finance and marketing.
The 2016 winner was quarterback Baker Mayfield from the University of Oklahoma. Mayfield is believed to be the only true freshman walk-on quarterback in FBS history to start a season opener. He also led his Sooners to the college football playoffs in 2016.
“In the eighth year of this award, I continue to be in awe of the work ethic and determination of all our nominees.” said Marty Burlsworth, CEO and founder of the Burlsworth Foundation and older brother of Brandon. “Beginning their college career as a walk-on and overcoming incredible obstacles is truly inspiring.”
Without one D1 scholarship offer, Brandon Burlsworth walked on at the University of Arkansas in 1994. He became 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.
The Brandon Burlsworth Foundation, in conjunction with Springdale Rotary Club, will host an awards ceremony on December 4, 2017 in Springdale, Arizona to honor the three finalists and to announce the 2017 winner.
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