By Kirk Noonan
Brandon Burlsworth, the 6-foot-3, 308-pound University of Arkansas
Razorbacks offensive guard, stood alone outside his brothers
house. He inhaled the cool Arkansas air deeply. Inside the house,
family, friends and two television reporters and camera crews were
crammed into the living room. The air was thick with tension.
After several minutes of solitude, Brandon walked back into the
house where the others had gathered to watch his future unfold on
national television. Unable to relax, he paced between the living
room and kitchen. His brother, Marty, who was also his agent, sifted
through hundreds of charts and player profiles.
"For some people it is exciting," says Marty, recounting
the day, "but for us it was strictly business."
When Brandon was chosen 63rd overall in the third round of the
NFL draft on April 17, 1999, the wait was over and a lifelong dream
was realized Brandon was now an Indianapolis Colt.
A few years earlier, not many people would have guessed that Brandon
would be drafted into the NFL. The kid, whom some described as a
"teddy bear," was big, polite, extremely reserved and
not an exceptional athlete. But he was also determined, disciplined
and a strict adherent of routine in all areas of his life
especially football. His love for the sport was surpassed only by
his love and commitment to Christ and his family. His pursuit of
excellence on the field was rewarded when the University of Arkansas
walk-on became a Football News All-America offensive lineman
and NFL draftee.
A week after the draft, Brandon shined at a Colts minicamp. His
rigorous play, work ethic and strong character made an immediate
impression on his new teammates and coaches.
"From everything we could see," said Bill Polian, president
of the Colts, "Brandon represented everything we want in a
Brandon returned to the university in Fayetteville. He had finished
all of his course work and needed only to collect his things, work
out and say goodbye to teammates and friends. On April 28, three
days before his graduation, Brandon decided to drive home to Harrison.
It was Wednesday night, and he wanted to have dinner and attend
church with his mom.
Twenty minutes away from his mothers doorstep, Brandon was
killed in a head-on collision with a tractor-trailer. In an instant,
the 22-year-old was whisked into eternity.
In the aftermath of his death, it became apparent through the words
and tributes of his family, community, teammates, coaches and fans
that the godly life he lived left a bigger mark than any of his
hits on the football field.
"Everybody down here wanted to be like him," Arkansas
quarterback Clint Stoerner told the Northwest Arkansas Times.
"He was as close to being the perfect Christian, student and
football player as anyone I know."
"Brandon Burlsworth probably represents more good things in
this world than I thought existed," Tommy Tice, Brandons
high school football coach, told Sports Illustrated.
Over the life of his NFL career, Brandon stood to make millions
of dollars. He was already famous in his hometown and Arkansas,
but playing for the Colts would have made him a national celebrity.
Yet, those who knew him best say the glory, fame and riches that
were to come could not have spoiled him.
"Brandon loved the Lord more than he loved football,"
says Arlis Thrasher, pastor of Faith Assembly of God in Harrison,
Ark., where Brandon attended church with his mother. "If there
was never the opportunity for football, Brandon would have still
been an outstanding Christian. His testimony left no doubt where
The same resolve that carried Brandon to the NFL was evident in
his spiritual life, says Eddie Hodges, Brandons youth pastor
in the early 1990s.
"When he volunteered at Super Church [a childrens ministry],
he would get there early and stay late to do whatever he could to
help," says Hodges, who is now the senior pastor at First Assembly
in Harrison. "He was over and above what you would expect from
a young man at that age."
When Brandon was 9, a family friend came to the house to visit.
Near bedtime, Brandon was sitting on his bed studying his Bible
when the friend passed his room and looked in.
"Our friend told me he was not living the [Christian] life
at the time and seeing Brandon really got to him," says Marty,
adding that soon after, the friend came back to Christ and is now
a pastor. "To me thats about the strongest statement
you can hear about Brandons life."
The Saturday after Brandons death, Marty stood in his place
at the universitys graduation ceremony. Brandon had fulfilled
the requirements for a masters degree in business administration
the first player in Razorbacks football history to do so
while still playing for the school. As Marty crossed the stage,
the audience stood in ovation.
"His death affected a lot of people," says Marty.
Brandons skills as a football player made him a budding star
in the NFL. But his unwavering walk with Christ etched him on the
hearts and minds of many.
"Rarely do you see someone who is so prepared to live and
yet so prepared to die," wrote one Colts fan.
Kirk Noonan is staff writer for the Pentecostal Evangel.