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Colts' Burlsworth Laid To Rest

On the day he was supposed to be picking out wedding rings with his fiancee, Brandon Burlsworth was buried.

A third-round draft choice last month, he was supposed to be getting ready to play for the Indianapolis Colts, blocking for Peyton Manning and opening holes for running backs.

Burlsworth was killed in a traffic accident last Wednesday as he drove from working out at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to his home in Harrison, a city of about 11,000.

More than 1,000 mourners gathered Saturday at the Harrison High School auditorium. Two rows of flowers ran the length of the basketball court. More than 100 members of Burlsworth's family were present and players from Harrison's football team wore their blue and yellow jerseys.

Others there included Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, Razorbacks coach Houston Nutt, former Arkansas coach Danny Ford and Baltimore Colts president Bill Polian.

Nine of Burlsworth's former Arkansas teammates served as pallbearers, along with one friend from his high school. Many more of his Arkansas teammates were in attendance.

On stage near the casket was Burlsworth's No. 66 Colts jersey with a framed picture of him, depicting the player wearing his trademark black-rimmed glasses and crewcut. A Colts helmet was on the stage as was a collage of photographs of Burlsworth's life and career.

The Razorbacks program announced Friday that university officials would retire the number 77 that Burlsworth wore for Arkansas.

But Burlsworth had more to his life than football. He had a master's degree in business administration and was the first Arkansas player in school history to get an advanced degree before playing his last game. He started as a walk-on and grew to the anchor of the offensive line.

He was preparing to marry Heather Nichols.

Burlsworth's hometown preacher, the Rev. Arlis Thrasher, said the couple was to have spent Saturday picking out wedding rings.

Mourners viewed a highlight tape of Burlsworth's play. On the tape, he delivered crushing blocks to protect quarterback Clint Stoerner and punched holes in defensive lines for Arkansas running backs.

Harrison High School football coach Tommy Tice recalled that Burlsworth started slow, but his character carried him through.

"The first time I welcomed him into that weight room ... he was a gangly awkward sophomore, who we used a sun dial to time the 40-yard dash. But that heart and desire is what separated him from the others," Tice said.

Tice said Burlsworth got to the weight room early -- often arriving before the coaches - and stayed late.

Tice said he encouraged Burlsworth to accept scholarship offers from smaller schools when he was a senior. "He told me, Coach, I want to be a Razorback."

Nutt mixed amusing stories about Burlsworth in his emotional talk. He said teammates would tease Burlsworth about his glasses, and Brlsworth would respond, "I got to see what I hit."

Nutt said Burlsworth's respect from teammates was evident in that he was elected captain by a landslide.

"He not only lived his life right, he lived right every single day," Nutt said.

Gov. Mike Huckabee sent a letter to the Burlsworth family. It spoke of how much Huckabee had enjoyed watching Burlsworth play, but even more Huckabee's letter commended Burlsworth family for the way he was raised.

Polian said Burlsworth was "a shining example" to others.

"As we got to know Brandon ... it was evident he was embarking on a long and successful NFL career." Polian said. "Others will play guard for us, but we won't replace Burlsworth."

Tice said the school will go ahead with plans it made before Burlsworth's death to hold a day in his honor next week.

"We are going to retire his high school jersey. ... It is not the type ending to the story that I wanted," Tice said.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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