Here at Kentucky Prep Gridiron we hear it all the time. Kids turning down offers to play college football on scholarship because they are going to be the next Clay Matthews, Jared Abbrederis, or, even Baker Mayfield. We watch movies such as Rudy who walked-on at Notre Dame in the 70s and was carried off into the sunset in spite of his being five foot nothing, a hundred and nothing… According to Michael Felder, author of Examining the Process of Being a College Football Walk-on which appeared in Bleacher Report April 13, 2013 http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1591099-examining-the-process-of-being-a-college-football-walk-on, the world of the college football walk-on is one that remains a mystery to most fans. Well, we are here to un-shroud some of the mystery in the hopes, going forward, some of you might not be so hasty to turn down the college or university willing to invest in you in favor of the big-time school preferring you walk-on its team.
Most walk-ons, according to Michael Felder, lie somewhere between the Rudys and the Clay Matthews types. However, you should realize the bulk of kids who walk-on college football programs aren’t a bunch of Joe Slappys either. Walk-ons fall into one of two categories, recruited and unrecruited. Recruited walk-ons were good enough to be recruited but didn’t warrant being offered a scholarship in the cycle during which the prospect was being recruited. Un-recruited walk-ons are players out to whom the school never reached and in whom the school never showed any interest. Recruited walk-ons are essential to college football which is why your favorite FBS team has more than the NCAA’s 85 player scholarship limit’s accoutrement of bodies. The players between number 85 and, let’s say, 140 or so, on the roster, are, in their own rights, still accomplished footballers. According to Felder’s article…Some of them are the not-as-good teammates of scholarship guys. Others are player No. 30 in a signing class of 25 who didn’t get an offer from said school, but would rather be there than somewhere else playing for free. Still other players are legacy guys whose dad or brother was a stud and the school wants to see if they can grow into a ballplayer, if given time. Felder goes on to explain that, These kids get the same letters and invites to games as the scholarship members of a recruiting class. They take visits and get phone calls from coaches. They meet with the coach before making their decision on their future and discuss where the opportunity for them to succeed exists. These are players important to the coaches continued employment and success at their present jobs. How can we be confident these coaches are shooting our loved ones straight about the opportunity for them to succeed? Well, we can’t, can we?
Recruited walk-ons, according to the Felder article…get their lockers, numbers, jerseys and they get out there and practice from Day 1 in the fall. The point here is that these guys are not trying out for the team, they are on the team. This is quite a departure from the Ruettinger type of walk-ons, the un-recruited. These are your tryout guys and schools all across the nation are conducting these tryouts right now. The University of Tennessee, for instance, is conducting its tryout for the football walk-on program January 29, 2018, or 9 days from the date this article is expected to be published. These try-outs will attract guys that either did not get looks in high school or who did not even play high school ball. These are the guys who read the school newspaper and discovered that their school is going to give anyone interested a shot to make the big team. They are the true dreamers. There will be a lot of them.
These guys will come out in hordes, gassed up by their friends and drunk off of Rudy…pumped for a chance to wear the uniform of Big State Tech or Dream School U. Felder, Ibid. So what should these guys expect in the try-out? Well, they will run 40s, do agility work, be pushed through timed conditioning runs, and will be screamed at and asked just why they think they are good enough to be on the team. What will emerge is a couple of guys just good enough to find the roster. Some of these guys will have a football background and others will be guys with raw size, speed, or strength with very little background in the game. They may well be college level athletes in other sports. Their reward for making the roster will be the privilege of getting to block, tackle, perform drills, lift, and run with the rest of the college players. These players are very likely to be anatomical mis-matches for the un-recruited walk-ons and will probably be much more agile, fast, powerful, and explosive then the newbies who made the team fresh from off the open tryout. If the walk-ons were a physical match for their recruited counter-parts perhaps they, too, would have been recruited. What will be left, when all the dust is settled, is a few guys who have proven their ability and determination and absolutely none of it will be easy.
The important thing to remember is there is a reason the movie Rudy was screened and has become one of the highest grossing and inspiring football movies of all time. It is because the story line is exceptional and extra-ordinary, and a once in a generation/life-time event worthy of being permanently memorialized in film. Movies depicting paths well-traveled and distinctions easily attained just don’t get made. You might think about this before you turn down a free education to pursue an opportunity to be the subject of the next Rudy movie. Just saying…
Reporting for Kentucky Prep Gridiron, I am Fletcher Long reminding you to PLAY THROUGH THE WHISTLE!