When Zac Budman was assigned to produce a feature for College GameDay Built by The Home Depot on the late Brandon Burlsworth, he did his research and learned the amazing and tragic story of the former Arkansas Razorbacks offensive lineman.
In “The Walk-on,” which airs Saturday, College GameDay celebrates the annual ceremony of a walk-on player being rewarded with a scholarship by looking back at Burlsworth’s impact at Arkansas 25 years ago.
After walking on, Burlsworth became an All-American and was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts to help protect Peyton Manning. However, the player some consider the best walk-on in college football history was tragically killed in a car accident just 11 days later.
Since 2010, the Burlsworth Trophy has been handed out to the best player in college football who started his career as a walk-on. Among the past recipients: Cleveland Browns star and former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Hunter Renfrow, a recent Clemson standout receiver now in his rookie year with the Oakland Raiders.
“I knew nothing of Brandon’s story,” said Budman. “I’d never heard it before. But there was a film made about it and there were a lot of articles about it. So I read up on his story and the first thing that came to mind is he’s Rudy [Ruettiger, the famed former Notre Dame football walk-on], only better.
“And I just thought it was a devastatingly tragic story but also an inspiring one.”
— Burlsworth Trophy (@BurlsworthTrust) August 29, 2019
Though Burlsworth’s story is not new, Budman felt that he should approach the story, with reporter Tom Rinaldi, as if every viewer was learning about it for the first time.
“The story’s been told a lot but it probably hasn’t reached as many people as you think,” he said. “I, for one, didn’t know about it, and anyone I’ve talked about it with didn’t either, so I don’t think you try to get too outside the box in your thinking.
“You want to hear from the pertinent voices, the people that were closely involved and related to Brandon – played with him, coached him and raised him. You want to just tell the story as if no one had ever heard it before. That’s the way I went about it.”
College GameDay Built by the Home Depot airs Saturday at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN from Sundance Square in Fort Worth, Texas.