"I don't think Brandon would have liked the fuss we made over him today," said Danny Ford, his former coach. "That wasn't like him."
But Ford liked it. That's why he left his farm in Central, S. C., to attend the event on the University of Arkansas campus. It was the first time Ford had been back on campus since his termination as football coach. The only other time he had been to Northwest Arkansas (or the Ozarks) was after Burlsworth died in a car wreck in the spring of 1999. (Ford spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club a couple of years ago.)
"That's the last time I've been here and the last time I saw his mother, Barbara," Ford said. "It hit me when I got up to speak and saw her sitting out there this afternoon that the last time I saw her was in that gym in Harrison at his funeral."
The Burlsworth Trophy was unveiled at the A Club to honor the nation's most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on at a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision school.
Ford was Burlsworth's coach, but he credited Harrison High coach Tommy Tice, UA director of football operations Harold Horton and Marty Burlsworth, Brandon's big brother.
"Those are the three that should get the credit," Ford said. "They are the ones who got him here to Arkansas."
"No one saw him coming here as a great player, an All-American," Ford said. "You can't look into a man's heart and see that."
Ford said he remembers the time he recognized Burlsworth as the player he would become.
"It was those summer workouts when we were doing laps around the track, those 440s, one after another," Ford said. "I was watching and Brandon was 40 yards ahead of the next man. He had become the leader of the team. I recognized then he was going to be a great player. It wasn't out there in pads, just what he was doing by outworking everyone else. That's when you know sometimes."
Ford didn't recognize much of anything he saw Monday. He toured the campus and the community he lived in as coach, Johnson.
"Nothing looked the same," he said. "I saw that golf course (John) Tyson built. I saw the buildings here. The stadium is all different. I remember when I became coach, we were in offices at the athletic dorm. The training staff was in a double wide trailer because they were working on the Broyles Center. The basketball arena wasn't there. I saw the baseball stadium.
"It's really nice. It looks like an SEC school right now"
Just after those thoughts, he warned Arkansas fans.
"I've been to South Carolina, Georgia," he said. "I spoke at Alabama this spring. I saw what they got. It's nice and everyone is still building. They are going to have to keep building here. It doesn't ever stop. Everywhere you go in the SEC, it looks like they built the Taj Mahal. It looks like that here, too. It looks like an SEC school."
Ford said he had no problem sitting at the front of the room, next to Frank Broyles. It was Broyles who brought him to Arkansas and Broyles who fired him.
"See, he got me back in coaching," Ford said. "If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have got back to coaching. I loved my stay here. I loved the way I was treated by Arkansas people. I still have friends here. The tour I got this morning, it was with some of my old neighbors in Johnson.
"I pull for Arkansas. I pull for Clemson. I coached there. I pull for Virginia Tech because I was an assistant coach there. And I pull for Alabama. I watch their games and pull for them all."
Ford said the Burlsworth Trophy is a wonderful idea. He said he's proud to serve on the committee to pick the winner.
"It's a great thing," Ford said. "It's a special award and it couldn't be named after a better person.
"When you think about Brandon, the only thing I can remember that he did wrong was have that wreck. His teammates have to be proud, too."
Ford remembers when it became obvious that Burlsworth was an All-SEC player. He said Brandon's teammates knew it first.
"They used to get onto him to talk a little more and be a leader," Ford said. "They'd make fun of him because he was that kind of player and wouldn't say a word. They told him, 'You are going to have to talk a little now.' He didn't. He was so quiet. In fact, he was so shy they got onto him for that.
"The thing about Brandon, everything he got, he earned. He got it for the way he worked. No steroids. His strength came through hard work."
Ford always appreciated those that did it through hard work. He's still a farmer and enjoys working with his cows, hauling hay and doing things that require a little sweat. He's got "60 momma cows and about 50 calves, some of them I gotta get home to because it's too hot to keep 'em. Going sell some this week. I'm staying busy, speaking and farming. But I wouldn't miss this, to honor Brandon.
"I appreciate that group that Brandon played with. When I got here, we didn't have any linemen. I remember that we didn't have linemen on either side of the ball. You had guys like Brandon, Russ Brown, Chad Abernathy and Grant Garrett. They didn't know how to play when they got here. They went out there and got their butts kicked and finally just got tired of it. Guys like Brandon and those other players, they had to work their way through it. Got beat up pretty good and then decided to do something about it.
"That's what I appreciate, the hard work they put in. I can remember games where we had some lineman that didn't know the plans. We'd tell them the plays from the sideline. That was those first years. Then we got these boys and they just stuck with it."
He'll watch the Hogs play this year on TV. He may go to Columbia to watch the Hogs play South Carolina's Gamecocks.
"They got some big games this year," he said. "That one in South Carolina will be a big one. The folks in South Carolina think this is going to be a good year for them, maybe nine wins. The Hogs have a big one with Alabama, too."
Someone asked Ford to handicap the SEC race. He remembered the 1995 Hogs that had a leader at quarterback, Barry Lunney.
"That's what you look at first, who has their quarterback," Ford said. "The East doesn't have many quarterbacks coming back. That one is probably wide open. Florida is still Florida. The West? Everyone is pretty good, but Arkansas has a pretty good quarterback coming back."
Ford will be back in the winter. He's looking forward to the Feb. 7 dinner when the Burlsworth Trophy will be presented.