Burr-Kirven tackles AP first-team honors

Jennifer Buchanan photo

Linebacker piles up accolades to go with all the tackles

Washington inside linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who has shown everyone what unbridled determination can do, was rewarded on Monday with a spot on college football’s most prestigious All-America listing—as a first-team Associated Press selection.

The senior from Menlo Park, Calif., known as BBK, became the 29th Huskies football player to earn the coveted AP honor. Later in the day, he was named to the Football Writers Association of America All-America first team.

Also on Monday, UW offensive guard Kaleb McGary and defensive tackle Greg Gaines swept the Pac-12’s Morris Trophy given to the top linemen on each side of the ball. They became the 12th and 13th Huskies to claim this prize.

Burr-Kirven’s meteoric rise has made him one of the college game’s better stories this season. He wasn’t heavily recruited; in fact, Stanford, the closest school to his hometown, didn’t have any interest. He was a special-team player and reserve linebacker for two seasons at Washington, known more for his long flowing hair, since cut.

He became a starter in 2017 but most people thought his promotion was more by default: Burr-Kirven replaced All-Pac-12 linebacker Azeem Victor, who had failed to bounce back from a broken leg and in his ensuing frustration was suspended from the team.

This season, however, Burr-Kirven has showed that he has earned every last accolade. The 6-foot-1, 221-pound defender leads the nation in tackles with 165, averaging 12.6 per game. He’s also ranked among the country’s best in forced and recovered fumbles. He was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, as well as the conference Scholar Athlete of the Year.

“At Washington, all he does is tackle everybody,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “He’s hard to block. He doesn’t stay blocked. He’s got great acceleration and anticipation. He’s one of those guys that plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”

Burr-Kirven shares elite linebacker status on the AP first team with Kentucky’s Josh Allen and LSU’s Devin White. UW free safety Taylor Rapp and cornerback Byron Murphy were picked to the wire-service team’s second unit.

The Huskies have had 26 different players receive AP first-team recognition, with three doing it twice, over 93 seasons. Running backs George Wilson (1925) and Chuck Carroll (1926) were the first two recipients. Tackle Paul Schwegler was the first two-time honoree (1930, 1931), followed by guard Max Starcevich (1936).

It would be 14 seasons before Washington came up with another AP first-teamer—Don Heinrich, and he did it twice (1950, 1952). Heinrich teamed with an AP All-America running back in Hugh McElhenny (1951).

The Huskies’ back-to-back Rose Bowl teams spawned a pair of AP All-Americans in quarterback Bob Schloredt (1959) and center Roy McKasson (1960).

The UW then had a run of three defensive backs picked to the AP first team in Tom Greenlee (1966), Al Worley (1968) and Calvin Jones (1972).

Ten years went by before kicker Chuck Nelson (1982) and linebacker Mark Stewart (1982) received first-team honors—the first time more than one Huskies player was selected. They were followed by kicker Jeff Jaeger (1986).

Washington’s co-national championship team provided two more AP first-team choices in defensive tackle Steve Emtman (1991) and wide receiver Mario Bailey (1991). Offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy earned AP recognition the following season (1992).

Free safety Lawyer Milloy (1995), offensive guard Benji Olson (1996, 1997), center Olin Kreutz (1997), offensive guard Chad Ward (2000) and wide receiver Reggie Williams (2002) came next. Twelve years of bad UW football followed and brought a noticeable dip in talent and no AP first-team picks.

The Huskies ended the drought in resounding fashion with three selections in 2014, all on defense: linebackers Hau’oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson, and defensive lineman Danny Shelton.

And now Burr-Kirven, a guy who plays on sheer guts, can take a bow.