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Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes wins Burlsworth Trophy

Indiana v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Michigan State Spartans defensive end Kenny Willekes was awarded the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy today. The honor goes to the “most outstanding college football player in America who began his career as a walk-on.”

In addition to Willekes, this year’s finalists included University of California’s Ashtyn Davis (safety/kick returner) and Rodrigo Blankenship from the University of Georgia (kicker). The award was first presented in 2010. Former winners of the Burlsworth Trophy include Hunter Renfrow, Luke Falk, Baker Mayfield, Jared Abbrederis and Matt McGloin.

This season obviously didn’t go as planned for the Spartans, but Willekes still put together a fine campaign. The senior edge rusher recorded 69 tackles (nice), 14 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and one touchdown. He led the team in sacks and was second in both total tackles and tackles for loss. Throughout his career, Willekes has amassed 219 total tackles, 22 sacks and a Michigan State record 47.5 tackles for loss.

After breaking his left leg (fibula) in the 2018 Red Box Bowl, Willekes decided to forego entering the NFL Draft and returned to East Lansing for his senior year. He’s played in all 12 games so far in 2019 and hasn’t show any lasting effects from the injury.

Willekes started his college career in 2015 at MSU, of course as a walk-on out of NorthPointe Christian in Grand Rapids. He redshirted that season, but made an immediate impact on his coaching staff and teammates, and was selected as Scout Team Player of the Week six separate times that year. He went on to earn a scholarship in 2017, on his way to third-team All-Big Ten honors that season. Then, Willekes earned All-American and first-team All-Big Ten recognition in 2018. He was also named the Smith-Brown Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2018.

In 2019, Willekes was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media, and second-team by the coaches. He was joined by his fellow teammates, defensive tackle Raequan Williams (second-team by media, third-team by coaches), cornerback Josiah Scott (second-team by media), linebacker Joe Bachie (third-team by media) and running back Elijah Collins (third team by media). Williams also won the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award, which deserves a shoutout.

With one more game remaining in Willekes’ Spartan career — the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 27 — you can expect him to give it his all, as he always done. Afterward, Willekes will prepare for the NFL Draft where he will surely be selected come April (as long as he stays healthy, knock on wood).

Congrats, Kenny!