By Chuck Pool (cpool@Rice.edu) -
Rice senior wide receiver Zach Wright is one of 52 players from across the country who have been nominated for the 2016 Burlsworth Trophy, which is presented annually by the Springdale (Ark.) Rotary Club to the collegiate player who began their career as a walk-on and has shown outstanding performance on the field.
The award honors Brandon Burlsworth, former University of Arkansas walk-on and All-American offensive lineman. Nominees must have begun their first season of participation with a D1 football program without financial aid of any kind from their athletic department.
“This is the seventh year of the Burlsworth Trophy and once again we have a very strong group of nominees” said Marty Burlsworth, CEO and founder of the Burlsworth Foundation and older brother of Brandon. “All of these young men have worked extremely hard and have overcome tremendous obstacles to become the players they are today.”
One of two players selected as co-captains prior to the 2016 season, Wright is the Owls active leader with 86 catches and 1,065 yards in three seasons of regular action in the receiving rotation. He led the Owls with 39 receptions for 554 yards and five touchdowns as a junior and leads the team this year with 21 receptions despite missing time because of an injury.
A standout quarterback and basketball player at College Park HS in The Woodlands, Wright originally assumed his athletic career had ended after not receiving any Division I offers, but a late invitation to walk-on at Rice allowed him to not only continue his own career, but extend a family legacy that had begun with his mother, aunt and uncle.
Wright’s mother, Holly, was an All-SWC basketball selection in 1987 and ranks third in school history with 1,791 points. On the same weekend in 2015 when she was inducted into the Rice Athletics Hall of Fame, Zach scored the winning touchdown with 24 seconds left to defeat Army. Wright’s aunt, Stacey, was a two-time MVP as a swimmer at Rice while his uncle (Jon Warren) was an All-American on the track and now coaches the Rice men’s track team.
Wright began his career by playing on special teams after a redshirt year as the Owls won their first conference title in 56 years. He broke into the receiving rotation in 2014, catching 25 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. 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 2015 winner was quarterback Baker Mayfield from the University of Oklahoma. Mayfield is believed to be the only true freshman walk-on QB in FBS history to start a season opener. He also led his Sooners to the college football playoffs last year.
Springdale Rotary Club will host an awards ceremony on Dec. 5th in Springdale, AR to honor the three finalists and to announce the 2016 winner.