Burlsworth Trophy a Worthy Goal for Bedford

Dec. 3, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

– I wasn’t sure if Sean Bedford ever puked on himself so I asked because I had to know.

There is no surprise in news that he’s a finalist for an award; the guy’s a two-time All-ACC first team center, and who in these parts doesn’t know something about his amazing academicals? We need news.

Combining the fact that I’d never heard of the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy and the reality that I was struggling Friday for a topic because my world’s been torn asunder for a few days by an ongoing, absurd water heater saga that has kept me from Tech, I latched onto an idea – a pilot light if you will.

I was emboldened upon learning that the next Burlsworth Trophy given to the top Division I player who began his college career as a walk-on will be the very first.

OK, the burner’s lit.

There’s something undeniably compelling about walk-ons who make it; it’s a sort of n’er-do-well tale.

Bedford studied up on Burlsworth upon being nominated for this award. He was equipped to answer when I asked whether the tendency to go the extra mile – as Bedford does, and you will see Burlsworth did – is genetic or learned.

Bedford spent time on the topic in a recent essay as part of a law school application; he’s applying to George Washington, William & Mary, Seton Hall, George Mason and Harvard, which he calls “my long shot.”

“You could get into a long debate about nature versus nurture on this one, but I think it goes to the way you were raised,” he explained. “I thought about the Robert Frost poem, `The Road Not Taken.’ The closing lines are, `I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.’ You’re talking about a group of people that tend to be highly motivated in walk-ons, people who strive.”

I knew nothing about Burlsworth, so before it was off to the research lab for discovery of startling similarities between a pair of offensive linemen — whether or not Sean and the former Arkansas star from the late 1990s share a wretching tale like this one in Sports Illustrated:

It was a rare day that Burlsworth didn’t lead his group in conditioning drills at the end of practice. If the team was running wind sprints, he routinely finished first, even when he wasn’t feeling well. One afternoon Burlsworth, suffering from diarrhea and dehydration, refused to sit out a mandatory 440-yard run.

“The strength coach said to me, `I don’t think Brandon can do it,’ ” recalls former Arkansas line coach Mike Bender, himself a lineman and a member of the Razorbacks’ 1964 national championship team. “Well, tell Burls that. He got sick on the run, and messed all over himself, but he still beat everybody by 20 or 30 yards. He wouldn’t quit for anything.”

It took a tiny bit more research to land in a river of endless warm water with one nagging cold spot.

Burlsworth is dead.

After earning All-SEC and second team All-America honors following the 1999 season, the big guard was drafted in the third round by the Colts. Eleven days after the draft, he died in a car crash on his way to his hometown from a workout.

His story was tragic. If you want to read the SI piece, check this link.

Before his death, Burlsworth was an epic study in dedication, focus, willpower, intelligence, congeniality and achievement. He was a heck of a player, too, under-credited from the start as he passed on offers from smaller schools and chose to walk-on at the big daddy school in his native state because he loved the Razorbacks too much to cast his lot anywhere else.

This was somewhat similar to Bedford, who like Burls goes the, “Yes, sir/No sir,” route with most folks. Bedford was born in the Virgin Islands and grew up in Gainesville, Fla., before opting to try out as a defensive lineman with the Yellow Jackets because he so loved Tech’s engineering programs.

He’ll graduate in a couple weeks with degree(s) in aerospace engineering and public policy with a minor in law, science and technology. He’s legendary among Tech football players for his academic mission, which due to labs and so forth often left him stacking together consecutive nights of little or no sleep even as he was busy co-piloting the Yellow Jackets’ offense last season on the way to an ACC title.

Burlsworth became the first Arkansas player to earn a Master’s degree at the school prior to playing in his final game, the 1-1-2000 Cotton Bowl (a 27-6 win over Texas that was a sublime way to end a college career). Shortly before that contest, he took a bachelors degree in marketing management and an MBA.

Smart as he was with a 3.4 GPA, there wasn’t a lot of sass or dazzle about Burlsworth, whose hair was always closely cropped – as is Bedford’s. He didn’t smoke, drink, or supposedly curse.

Who knows if he’ll win the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy, which goes out in February? Other finalists are Army’s Josh McNary, Tennessee’s Nick Reveiz, Oklahoma State’s Bryant Ward and Boise State’s Ryan Winterswyk.

Who can match Bedford’s aspirations?

He aims in law school to study intellectual properties with an interest in copyrights.

He and Burlsworth shared the distinguishing characteristic of being rare in nature and motivation.

Burlsworth had a trademark equivalent. With thick, black-framed, 1950s-ish glasses and that haircut, he resembled comedian-game show host Drew Carey. Check here for yourself.

There is a book about Burlsworth, but there was nothing poetic about his end. Engaged at death, he was buried the day he was to have bought his fiance’s ring.

Hearts strings surely tug and pinch at mention of such impingements, but in the interest of snapping back to light, I have some poetry in mind if Bedford doesn’t win that award.

Cast him in the lead role in the Burlsworth movie, “Greater,” which is slated for release in 2012.

He doesn’t wear glasses, but with the right pair he’d look an awful lot like Burlsworth/Carey, too. Seriously.

It’d be a near-perfect fit; one hell of a barfer playing another.

“I puked in one practice because I had a pretty severe stomach virus,” Bedford said. “During coaches’ conditioning runs last spring, I got sick with pneumonia and didn’t realize it. But I managed to finish.”

That’s sick, in a strangely good way.

Academicals is a word; look it up. For anyone interested: after buying one water heater that was too tall to fit and still retain proper venting, then learning one day later upon purchase of one that fit that the venting I installed a few years ago would not meet code and installation could not begin until the single-wall venting was replaced with double, and also that venting would even then be less than optimal because of the run length of the vent, we . . . are going tankless. Hey, at least we qualify for a tax credit. So I’ve got my vector, Victor, which is more than any of you can say. NOBODY filled in the vector blank from Friday’s Sting Daily story. Shame on all. Late answers accepted for quarter credit at stingdaily@gmail.com.

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