CoCo Darden a candidate for award as nation's top collegiate football walk-on
By Bryan Fyalkowski

Posted on November 6, 2019 8:01 PM


WKU Football nickelback Ta’Corian ‘CoCo’ Darden was listed as one of 83 nominees for the 2019 Burlsworth Trophy, it was announced on Tuesday. The award, which is presented annually by the Springdale (Ark.) Rotary Club, recognizes the most outstanding FBS football player who began his career as a walk-on.

"This opportunity that I accepted as a walk-on was a humbling experience for me,” Darden said. "I knew that this wasn’t the easiest route for me to take, but I didn’t want anything handed to me. It came with a grind, hard work, and stressful times for me and my family, but it made me stronger and helped me become who I am today."

Darden – who earned a scholarship on Aug. 27, 2017, during Fall Camp – has played in 39 consecutive games at WKU, starting 29 at nickelback over the past three seasons. So far in 2019, he has totaled 37 tackles – including 3.5 for loss – with one interception and four pass breakups. He had a season-high nine tackles vs. Louisville, two tackles for loss vs. UAB, and his interception at Old Dominion set up a Hilltopper touchdown in WKU’s 20-3 victory.

Darden has 183 total tackles in his collegiate career, with 14 of those for loss. Darden compiled 71 tackles in both 2017 and 2018, including a career-high three interceptions and 11 pass breakups last season. And with six career interceptions, he is tied for fourth among Hilltoppers in the program’s FBS Era (since 2009).

The Russellville native was recruited to The Hill by former assistant coach Mike Cassidy and was offered an opportunity as a preferred walk-on. Cassidy noticed Darden’s hard work in the classroom and his production on the field. Despite his small stature at 5-9, Darden played all over the field for the Panthers. As a senior, he tallied 645 yards on 82 rushes with eight touchdowns, 871 yards on 44-of-96 passing with 10 touchdown passes, caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, and picked off five passes.

“When he offered me a chance to be preferred walk-on here at WKU, me and my family talked about it, but it didn’t take long for me to accept it,” Darden said. "That feeling was one of a kind, and I still thank him to this day for noticing me and the opportunity that he gave me."

This marks the fourth consecutive year in which a Hilltopper has been nominated for the award, as Darden joins former WKU center Max Halpin, nominated in 2016, former WKU tight end Deon Yelder, nominated in 2017, and former WKU linebacker Ben Holt, nominated in 2018.

The Burlsworth Trophy was established in 2010 to honor Brandon Burlsworth, who walked on at the University of Arkansas in 1994. He became a three-year starter and was eventually named an All-American in 1998. Burlsworth was selected as the 63rd overall pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL draft, but was tragically killed in a car accident 11 days later. The Burlsworth Foundation was created in his memory and supports the physical and spiritual needs of children, in particular those children who have limited opportunities.

“This award is about the journey, the incredibly challenging journey that all of these nominees have taken,” said Marty Burlsworth, CEO and founder of the Brandon Burlsworth Foundation and older brother of Brandon. “When you begin your college career as a Walk-On there are plenty of skeptics, those that think you can’t do it. This group of Burlsworth Trophy nominees have proven all the skeptics wrong. They have put in an immense about of work and overcame numerous obstacles to make their dreams come true.”

In conjunction with the Springfield (Ark.) Rotary Club, the Burlsworth Foundation will host an awards ceremony on Dec. 9 in Springdale, Ark. to honor the three finalists and announce the 2019 winner.

The 2018 winner was Clemson Tigers wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, who had 186 receptions for 2133 yards and 15 touchdowns, four of which were in national championship games. Former Washington State Cougars quarterback Luke Falk won the award in 2017, while former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield won it in 2015 and 2016.

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