I love watching movies, especially those with a powerful message, and this week, I found the movie Greater on Netflix. It’s a sports flick that has been out for a few years, but somehow I missed it. It drew me for a number of reasons. The story is about a young man of faith, Brandon Burlsworth, who had a dream of playing football for the University of Arkansas but was a long shot as a walk-on. My youngest son attended the University of Arkansas. Burlsworth started out at a disadvantage with an alcoholic father and was fat and too short to be a lineman for a Division 1 program. His family did not have the money to send him to college, so he desperately needed a scholarship after the first year.
While I wasn’t overweight, this scenario is eerily similar to my own. I had no father and a mother who struggled emotionally. There was only enough money for one year of college and I was first, a walk-on volleyball player but quit, then I walked-on to the basketball team and made the team. After my college money ran out, I did not know what I’d do after that.
No one thought Burlsworth would succeed, but he worked harder than others, survived the verbal abuse and taunting of his teammates, and made the Razorbacks football team.
What’s important to remember is that Burlsworth never wandered from his faith as he strove to reach his goal, and I believe God gave him favor because of his stand for righteousness. It was through that dedication, he drew his teammates to the LORD, then led the the University of Arkansas to a conference championship in the 98-99 season. He also made All-American and was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the NFL Draft. In addition, Burlsworth was an academic scholar and completed his Master’s Degree prior to graduation.
As I reflected on the movie, I thought of the verse that has replayed lately in my studies, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (NLT). It’s so simple. If we seek God first, all the other stuff will fall in place. He will provide the desires of our hearts. God is good like that.
However, Brandon Burlsworth suffered a tragic ending. On his way back to his hometown in Arkansas, his car collided with an 18-wheeler and he was killed before he could ever play a down in professional football. And like many of us when someone is taken too young, we ask, “Why LORD?” “Why would you take such a light for you in this world?”
I don’t have the answer except that Burlsworth’s legacy and story lives on, even in death. There’s a Brian Burlsworth trophy that is given to the most outstanding football player in America who began his career as a walk-on, and according to the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation, since 1999, hundreds of Burlsworth scholarships have been awarded at the University of Arkansas. Each year $5,000 scholarships are awarded to 13 or more students who are characterized as “academic overachievers.”
Burlsworth’s life inspired me, as I am also a hopeless over-achiever, but confess I did not work as hard as he did when I was in college. He truly strived to be “greater,” not only in football and academics, but also as a disciple of our Great and Loving God. And my hope is that as Brandon Burlsworth’s legacy lives on, so will his testimony of faith.