Zach Johnson Nominated for Burlsworth Trophy
University of Kentucky senior defensive back and kick returner Zach Johnson is one of 67 players nominated for the 2020 Burlsworth Trophy, it was announced today. The Burlsworth Trophy is given to the most outstanding football player in America 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.
In the award’s eleventh 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 in 2016
Johnson, a native of Cincinnati, came to UK as a walk-on in 2016 and has played in 43 games during his Wildcat career. After redshirting his freshman season, Johnson emerged as a core special-teams and scout-team player in 2017, seeing action in eight games and returning two kicks for 35 yards. Prior to the 2018 season, head coach Mark Stoops was so impressed with his work ethic that he awarded Johnson a full scholarship. He went on to chart eight tackles in 13 games on special teams, most of them highlight-reel worthy. He was also named to the Dean’s List.
“Here’s a guy who just goes to the scout team every day and he does it with a smile on his face and busts his tail to give them the best look he can all day, every day,” Stoops said. “Yet then he goes out and has an impact (in games) because that’s his role. He accepts his role, he knows his role. We really look up to Zach and respect him.”
Last season, he had six kick returns for 164 yards, including a career-long 58-yard return at Georgia. He also had four tackles and a pass breakup and was named to the Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll for his work in the classroom.
In this unusual 2020 season, Johnson has played in nine of 10 games, missing his first contest since 2017 when he was unable to play vs. South Carolina on Senior Night due to Covid-19 protocols. He has 11 returns for 228 yards, averaging 20.7 yards per return.
Without one D1 scholarship offer, Burlsworth walked on at 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 Burlsworth Trophy will host an awards ceremony virtually on January 4, 2021 to honor the three finalists and to announce the 2020 winner.