Washington State's Falk wins Burlsworth Trophy

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, December 4, 2017
Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 38-24. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk (4) in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 19, 2016, in Boulder, Colo. Colorado won 38-24. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Not many quarterbacks win head-to-head matchups with Baker Mayfield.

The Oklahoma senior has led the Sooners to a 34-5 record the past three years, including 12-1 this season and a spot in the College Football Playoff against Georgia.

So score one for Washington State quarterback Luke Falk, who won the Burlsworth Trophy on Monday to deny Mayfield a three-peat.

Mayfield — a heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding college football player on Saturday night in New York — won the Burlsworth Trophy the previous two years.

“Baker just said, ‘Congrats,’ ” Falk said. “We were joking up there that I’ll take this home and he’ll take the Heisman home.”

Falk was a three-time finalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is named for former Arkansas Razorbacks All-American offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth and since 2010 has been presented by the Springdale Rotary Club to the top player who began his college career as a walk-on.

“Baker, thanks for letting me win it this year,” Falk said to the crowd at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center. “Like they say, the third time’s the charm.”

Mayfield said before the luncheon that winning the Burlsworth Trophy has been his greatest individual honor and that coming to the event for a third consecutive year didn’t get old.

“Being here again is special, and any time I get a chance to win anything I’m going to try and do it,” Mayfield said. “If Luke wins I’ll be happy for him, but I’m not going to hand it to him.”

Mayfield said after the luncheon Falk is a worthy winner of the Burlsworth Trophy.

“After being around Luke and watching him play, seeing his work ethic and how he handles himself, there’s nobody more deserving,” Mayfield said. “It’s a pleasure to know him.”

Falk and Mayfield were among four finalists this year along with Memphis senior wide receiver Anthony Miller and Wisconsin senior tight end Troy Fumagalli.

“It’s definitely more than an awards ceremony,” Falk said. “It’s about Brandon’s life and his legacy. It’s just an honor to be a part of it.”

Burlsworth died in a car accident in 1999 after being picked in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. Greater, a movie about his life, was released last year.

“If watching the movie doesn’t impact you, there’s something wrong with you,” Falk said. “I just hope I can carry on Brandon’s legacy and live my life the Burls’ way.

“Being a walk-on, you’re part of a fraternity, so I definitely have a lot of pride in winning this trophy.”

The only scholarship offer Falk had as a senior at Logan (Utah) High School was from Idaho, but that was pulled when the Vandals had a coaching change with Paul Petrino, the former Razorbacks assistant, taking the job.

Falk instead went to Washington State, which recruited him as a walk-on at the urging of Eric Mele, who was then a quality control offensive assistant for the Cougars and is now their special teams coach.

Mele, who attended Monday’s luncheon, said Washington State Coach Mike Leach told him to find a walk-on quarterback to add to the roster.

“Coach Leach said, ‘We need to find a good walk-on quarterback. Let’s find the best one in the country,’ ” Mele said. “I poured through a lot of film and got a tape from Luke. I dialed it up and was impressed. He had good size and a good arm.

“I showed his film to Coach Leach and he said, ‘Let’s go get him.’ “

Falk went on a scholarship as a redshirt freshman in 2014 and started the final three games.

In Falk’s first start, he passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns against Oregon State to set the tone for a record-breaking career. He’s the Washington State and Pac-12 Conference all-time leader in passing yards (14,481), attempts (2,054), completions (1,403), touchdowns (119), completion percentage (68.3) and total offense (14,081).

The past three years Falk has led the Cougars to a 26-12 record, including 9-3 this season. He’ll finish his Washington State career in the Holiday Bowl against Michigan State on Dec. 28.

“Luke’s been a driving force behind our success,” Mele said. “He’s a leader for our whole team and a great role model.

“It’s a cliche, but he really is the first guy on the field an the last guy off. He does so much film study, the extra workouts. He’s had a real chip on his shoulder being a walk-on and put it all together for us.”

Falk acknowledged Mele on Monday for helping him get to Washington State.

“Coach Mele, thanks for giving me a shot,” Falk said to the crowd. “Thanks for taking a chance on a kid from Logan, Utah. It’s been fun to be able to do what we’ve done.”

Falk said it was frustrating as a high school senior not to have a scholarship offer.

“I was kind of wondering why things were going that way, and now I look back on it and it’s been the greatest blessing that I’ve had,” he said. “It continues to shape me today.”

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