Luke Falk finished behind Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield in Burlsworth Trophy voting in each of the last two years. But on Monday, Falk won the award for the first time.
In his third year as a finalist, Washington State’s Luke Falk finally won the the Burlsworth Trophy that goes to the most acclaimed former walk-on in the country annually.
Falk, a 6-foot-4, 223-pound senior from Logan, Utah, was in Arkansas on Monday to accept the Burlsworth Trophy in person. It marked his third trip to Springdale, Ark., but the first time he’ll be coming home with the ultimate honor for a former walk-on. In each of the last two years, the award went to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was also a finalist this year.
The Burlsworth Trophy is presented by the Springdale Rotary Club and named for former Arkansas offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth, who walked on to the Razorbacks’ football team as a freshman, and finished as an All-American in his fifth year, and was the Indianapolis Colts’ third round draft pick in 1999.
Like Burlsworth at Arkansas before him, Falk joined WSU as an invited walk-on in 2013. Five years later, he’ll leave as the Pac-12’s all-time career-leading leader with 14,481 passing yards and 119 touchdown passes. His passing yardage is good for seventh all-time in NCAA history, and he needs just 187 more yards to pass former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore (14,667) for sixth.
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Falk finished the regular season as the Pac-12 Conference leader, with 30 touchdown passes. He’s sixth nationally with 3,593 passing yards and has led the Cougars to a 9-3 record, a No. 18 College Football Playoff ranking, and a No. 21 national ranking in the Associated Press top 25 poll. Falk earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors twice this season and led WSU to notable wins over USC, Oregon and Stanford.
With one game remaining in his college career — the Holiday Bowl on Dec. 28 against Michigan State — Falk is already the winningest quarterback in WSU history. He owns a program-record 27 wins, and holds WSU’s career records for completion percentage (.683), passing yards (14,481) and touchdowns (119) as well as multiple single season records.
In his acceptance speech Monday, Falk thanked WSU special teams coach Eric Mele for giving him an opportunity and supporting him over the years. Mele, who attended the awards banquet with Falk, was the coach who discovered Falk and got Mike Leach interested in him.
“Coach Mele, thanks for giving me a shot and taking a chance on a kid from Logan, Utah,” Falk said. “It’s been fun to be able to do what we’ve done.”
Mele has been one of Falk’s staunchest supporters throughout the quarterback’s WSU career in part because they’ve both had to fight their way to Pullman.
Mele can relate to Falk’s walk-on path to WSU. The Cougars’ assistant was out of coaching and working as a high school physical education teacher in North Carolina when he talked his way onto the football staff at Wingate University, then, several years later, badgered Leach into hiring him as a quality control assistant in 2011.
“We had similar paths,” Mele said in an interview last month. “I came up the hard way in coaching, and he came up the hard way in his position. We were trying to scrap and grind together. We were here a bunch. We were always getting together.”
Falk, like Mele, took a winding path to Pullman that say him go through heartbreak and setbacks before his perseverance finally won him the starting job at WSU.
“This year has been an emotional ride for a lot of us, “Mele said after WSU’s big win over Utah in Falk’s home state on Nov. 11. “This is why he came back. He could have gone to the NFL (after 2016) and we would have supported him. But he came back for these moments and all this stuff, and for his teammates.
“And to share that with him, with a kid who I hope will be an NFL guy for years to come, it’s special.”
In his acceptance speech in Arkansas on Monday, Falk referenced a scene from the movie, “Greater,” a biopic of Brandon Burlsworth’s life, to describe the impact his walk-on origins has had on him.
“Brandon, in the movie yesterday, was talking with his quarterback about his coach being in the press box and they being able to see the big picture on the field,” Falk said. “That’s how I feel God is in our lives. There’s times in high school when I was wondering how things were going that way. But now that I look back on it, it’s been the greatest blessing of my life. It’s made me who I am, and continues to shape me today.”