College football: Tech LB Barnett, former Benton star, named Burlsworth Trophy nominee

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By Ashley Springer, Louisiana Tech Assistant Director of Athletic Communications 

RUSTON — Louisiana Tech senior linebacker Ezekiel Barnett, a former Benton star, was named one of 67 nominees for the 2020 Burlsworth Trophy, recognizing the most outstanding FBS player who began his career as a walk-on and has shown outstanding performance on the field.

In the award’s 11th 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.  

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.

Barnett has started in seven games for LA Tech at linebacker this season. He is tied for 34th in C-USA in tackles with 6.0 per game and is tied for sixth in the conference in interceptions per game with 0.29. 

He has registered 42 total tackles, including 27 solo and 3.5 tackles for loss, and has had two interceptions so far this season. 

Barnett recorded his second career interception at UTSA (Oct. 24) which he then returned for a 60-yard touchdown. He had a career-high 10 tackles against both Southern Miss (Sept. 19) and UTEP (Oct. 10), while he also posted career-high 2.0 tackles for loss against the Golden Eagles.

Barnett walked on as a true freshman for the Bulldogs in 2016 where he took a redshirt year. As a redshirt freshman in 2017, he appeared in all 13 games while playing primarily on special teams, and he saw action in 10 games on defense as a sophomore in 2018.

Barnett appeared in all 13 games as a junior in 2019 where he made four starts at linebacker and recorded 59 total tackles, including 41 solo.

“A college football Walk-On faces an uphill battle from the very beginning. He has to prove himself to his coaches and teammates. He has to prove that he belongs,” said Marty Burlsworth, President and CEO of the Burlsworth Trophy and older brother of Brandon.

“Beginning your college football career as a Walk-On isn’t for everyone. It takes a tremendous work ethic and a great deal of determination. You have to want it! This group of Burlsworth Trophy nominees has proven to the college football world that they not only belong but can excel at the highest level of the game.”

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 Burlsworth Trophy will host an awards ceremony virtually on January 4, 2021 to honor the three finalists and to announce the 2020 winner.

— Featured photo of Ezekiel Barnett by Tom Morris