Rice senior center Matt Simonette is one of 55 players from across the country who have been nominated for the 2014 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.
Simonette came to Rice as a walk-on from Bellaire High School in Houston and moved into the starting spot at center after overcoming a serious arm injury in the third game of his junior year. Simonette suffered a broken right upper arm while blocking on an extra point against Houston and was only cleared to return to the field prior to the opening of the Owl's 2014 training camp. In recognition of his determination to return to the field as well as his leadership, he was selected by his teammates to serve as one of two captains for the 2014 season.
He has started all nine games for the Owls, who take a nine-game winning streak into a showdown on Saturday with #21 Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia. After taking over at center for 2013 All C-USA selection Nate Richards, Simonette was named to Phil Steele's 2014 All-Conference USA midseason second team.
"As we enter our 5th year of the Burlsworth Trophy, I am again impressed by the quality of committed athletes that have been selected," said Marty Burlsworth, CEO and founder of the Burlsworth Foundation and older brother of Brandon. "They each represent what the Burlsworth Trophy stands for: hard work, dedication to a sport and to their school and above all else, a commitment to excel at the highest level."
Without one D1 scholarship offer, Brandon Burlsworth walked on to the Razorback team in 1994, worked his way to being 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.
Springdale Rotary Club will host a banquet on Dec. 8th in Springdale, Ark. to honor the finalists and to announce the 2014 winner.