SPRINGDALE, Ark. — Many expected Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield to draw an invitation to this weekend’s Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City.
When three finalists were announced on Monday night, Mayfield’s name wasn’t included. The news came hours after the junior was awarded the Burlsworth Trophy as the nation’s most outstanding player who began his college career as a walk-on.
The three players invited for the presentation of college football’s top award are Derrick Henry (Alabama), Christian McCaffrey (Stanford) and Deshaun Watson (Clemson), who will be the opposing quarterback of the Sooners in the Orange Bowl.
“We’re proud of him anyway, no matter what happens, no matter how the (Heisman) voting goes,” OU center Ty Darlington said about his quarterback on Sunday. “I believe he’s the best player in the nation. The guys on this team believe he’s the best player in the nation. But also, I’m proud of not just the way he’s played and the way he’s led this team, but the way he’s dealt with the acclaim.”
Mayfield began his career as a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech and was named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year following the 2013 season. He transferred to OU as a walk-on and, after sitting out last year, has led the Sooners to an 11-1 record, the Big 12 championship and their playoff berth.
Earlier on Monday, Mayfield posed for countless pictures and signed every autograph request shortly after being announced the Burlsworth Trophy winner.
The Burlsworth Trophy is named after former Arkansas offensive lineman Brandon Burlsworth. Without a Division I offer, he walked on at Arkansas and became a three-year starter and an All-American in 1998. He was selected 63rd by the Indianapolis Colts in the 1999 NFL Draft and was killed in an auto accident 11 days later.
“(The award is) pretty special to me,” Mayfield said after Monday’s ceremony at the Northwest Arkansas Convention Center. “Learning more about Brandon and his whole story has been pretty neat. Finding out what it truly means and meeting the people who impacted his life is really special. To come with the trophy is an honor.”
Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt was the keynote speaker at the event.
“I have a special place in my heart for walk-ons because walk-ons are fighters. They are not takers,” Nutt said. “The ones that walk on, the ones that stick with it, they are the most successful.
“When you look at (Mayfield’s) story … not once but twice? And you look at where his team is? That’s an exciting deal.”
Mayfield was in Arkansas for two days and missed Sunday’s announcement of the Sooners’ bowl assignment in the College Football Playoff.
What does he think about facing Clemson, which defeated OU in the Russell Athletic Bowl last postseason?
“They got us pretty good last year. I was there on the (sideline) for that 40-6 game. We remember what they did to us,” Mayfield said. “We’ll have a little chip on our shoulder, and we’ll be ready for them.”
The quarterback threw plenty of praise for those helping him reach individual acclaim.
“The only reason that I’m here is because of (teammates),” Mayfield said. “We’ve put in a lot of work. It’s not just me that’s had success. We’ve all done it. The staff, the players beside us, the people on the support (staff). It’s kind of been everybody together.”
Mayfield’s week will include a Thursday trip to Atlanta’s College Football Hall of Fame for the 25th Anniversary College Football Awards. He joins TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Clemson’s Watson as finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, which honors college football’s top quarterback.
How is he managing things?
“You just kind of go with the flow. I’m not going to stress about it or worry about it too much. I just feel honored to be a part of it, to be in the discussion,” Mayfield said. “I’m not worried too much about it. When I go back to Norman, it’ll be all football. But for now, it’s good to get a little time off and give my body a break.”
Mayfield agreed that his story – from walk-on to one of college football’s well-known quarterbacks – is beyond his wildest dreams.
“I never would have imagined that it would be like this,” Mayfield said.
“It’s fun, that’s for sure. I’m having a blast. I love playing football, and the success helps with that. It’s definitely been a fun season.”