Joey Beljan Named a 2021 Burlsworth Trophy Nominee
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — WKU Football tight end Joey Beljan was listed as 1-of-88 nominees for the 2021 Burlsworth Trophy, it was announced Tuesday. The award, which is presented annually by the Springdale Rotary Club, recognizes the most outstanding FBS football player who began his career as a Walk-On.
This marks the sixth consecutive year in which a WKU player has been nominated for the award. Beljan (pronounced: bell-jann) joins former center Max Halpin (2016), tight end Deon Yelder (2017) and linebacker Ben Holt, (2018), as well as nickelbacks Ta’Corian Darden (2019) and Omari Alexander (2020).
Beljan – who walked on to the Hilltoppers prior to the 2018 season and earned a scholarship following 2021 spring camp – has worked his way up the depth chart over the past three-plus years. After redshirting in 2018, he played in the final four games of the 2019 campaign – all wins, against Arkansas, Southern Miss, Middle Tennessee and over Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl – on multiple special teams units, including kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return and punt coverage.
In 2020, Beljan played in all 12 games for WKU. He was a key member of all special teams units – kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return and punt coverage, as well as field goal and extra point protection. He also saw a handful of snaps as a blocking tight end on offense.
In 2021, Beljan has assumed the starting tight end role after Joshua Simon suffered a season-ending injury in the Hilltoppers’ first game vs. UT Martin. Beljan has played in all eight games – starting four – with five receptions for 35 yards and two touchdowns, both of which came when the Hilltoppers played at #16/17 Michigan State. According to PFF College Premium Stats, his 78.4 run-blocking grade ranks third among Conference USA tight ends. He also remains an integral member of many special teams units, and even has three kickoff returns for 38 yards when opponents elect to squib kick.
Beljan played for head coach Michael Haughey at Delaware Valley High School, thriving as both a tight end and linebacker for the Terriers. On offense, he earned Mid-State 38 Mountain All-Conference and Courier News All-Area honors, while being named All Hunterdon County and Express-Times All-Area on the defensive side of the ball. Following his senior season, he was chosen to play in Basilone Bowl VI, a charity all-star football game. He also played lacrosse and was a two-time All-State goalie.
After receiving zero Division I offers, Beljan put his high school highlight tape on social media following his senior season and was identified by WKU’s recruiting staff. The Holland, N.J., native visited Bowling Green and loved the campus and the possibility of playing for the Hilltoppers, and was offered a spot on the team as a preferred walk on. Playing both tight end and linebacker in high school, he did not know what position they would ask him to play; he found out when he got to Houchens-Smith Stadium and the No. 89 was hanging in his locker.
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.
“What a privilege it is to recognize these young men each year, those that chose to take on the challenge of beginning their college career as a Walk-On,” said Marty Burlsworth, President and CEO of the Burlsworth Trophy and older brother of Brandon. “We are excited to celebrate the achievements of these 88 players nominated for the 2021 Burlsworth Trophy. These extraordinary young men have put in the work and have earned this honor.”
The Burlsworth Trophy award ceremony to honor the three finalists and to announce the 2021 winner will be held on December 6 at Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark.