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ALMOST PERFECT
John Ed Bradley
June 28, 1999
ARKANSAS LINEMAN BRANDON BURLSWORTH DEDICATED HIMSELF TO DOING EVERYTHING FLAWLESSLY. WHEN SOMETHING FINALLY WENT WRONG, IT COST HIM A BRIGHT NFL FUTURE—AND HIS LIFE
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June 28, 1999

Almost Perfect

ARKANSAS LINEMAN BRANDON BURLSWORTH DEDICATED HIMSELF TO DOING EVERYTHING FLAWLESSLY. WHEN SOMETHING FINALLY WENT WRONG, IT COST HIM A BRIGHT NFL FUTURE—AND HIS LIFE

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"He was the biggest family guy I've ever met," says Razorbacks fullback Nathan Norman, Burlsworth's former suitemate in Bud Walton Hall. "Most guys go a long time without talking to their families, but Brandon would call every day, sometimes several times a day, just to check in."

During spring practice two years ago, Burlsworth appeared in the doorway of Bender's office. "Coach, my dad's real sick," Burlsworth said. "It looks like he's going to the before spring training's over. What should I do, Coach?"

"You need to go home, son," Bender answered. "You need to spend as much time with your daddy as you possibly can."

"But Coach," Burlsworth said, "he wouldn't want me to miss any practice."

"Brandon, that's just something you're going to have to do."

A couple of weeks later Burlsworth reappeared in Bender's office. "Coach, my father died today, but if it's all right with you, I want to go ahead and practice."

"Brandon, you need to go home."

"Coach, my dad would want me to practice today. And it would help me get my mind off things a little."

Bender wasn't sure what to tell him. Many kids look for any excuse to skip practice. "O.K., Brandon," he said at last. "If you want to practice, then you go ahead. But as soon as it's over, I'm going to walk you out to your car, and you're going home to be with your mama."

After practice the team huddled around Burlsworth and offered up a prayer for Leo. "It wasn't that Brandon wasn't caring," says Marty. "He was just doing what Dad wanted him to do. In the months before, just to get us off the subject of his dying, Dad would say, 'O.K., let's take care of football now.' He knew he wouldn't see the next season, and I think he felt he was letting Brandon down."

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