There’s a special place in my heart for those guys,” he said. “I will give them a better opportunity than a scholarship kid. If it’s close, I’m taking the walk-on. I’ve always been that way. I just appreciate guys like that.”
Urban Meyer-- from USA Today
Beware of the underdog!
As we enter the dizzying football bowl game season, I wanted to pay a little homage to some players that really make or break a college gridiron squad. I'm not talking about the stars. While they carry much of the weight at the top, they make up a very small percentage of a football team. Scholarship players are the meat and potatoes of any roster, but I think it is a fair to say that the small cadre of non scholarship walk-on players offer amazing heart and some serious value. Here you have players who play for the love of the sport, want the challenge of playing at a level nobody saw them in, and relish the role of the underdog. They are a force to be reckoned with, and teams cannot survive without them. Look no further than a great article in the December 20th USA Today ( Walk-ons play a key role for Ohio State and former walk-on Urban Meyer by Paul Myerberg) which talks about OSU coach Urban Meyer and his affection for walk-ons.
Walk-On This Way - The Ongoing Legacy of the Wisconsin Football by Joel Nellisand Jake Kocorowskiis the latest book to explore a walk-on perspective. For a long time, Badger football was bad. I could try to say mediocre, but that would be a stretch. Those who choke back vomit when I bring up Don Morton and the veer offense will understand. It wasn't until Barry Alvarez arrived in 1990 that the attitude changed. Alvarez reshaped, restocked, and bolstered his roster using non scholarship players to fill important depth. Four years later they won the Rose Bowl, and since then, winning has become an expectation, not a dream. Chris Kennedy also explores the Badger renaissance from the eyes of a walk-on in his book, No Bed of Roses. Both books do a fantastic job of describing the necessary role of a walk-on and how these kids inspire coaches, teammates, and any young, athletic dreamers. Gator Walk: How to Walk-On and Not Crawl Off by Brian Bianda provides a peek into the life of a major program walk-on who played for "the ol' ball coach." Matt Stewart, a Northwestern football walk-on tells a similar story in his book The Walk-On: Inside Northwestern's Rise From Cellar Dwellar to Big Ten Champ.Badger fans know all to well the plight of their Wildcat football kin. In fact, during the years of being crappy, the only sure "W" on the UW schedule was the Mildcats! Much like the Badgers, Northwestern faced a resurgance under Gary Barnett and earned a Rose Bowl berth in 1993. Stewart, like Nellis, Kocorowski, and Kennedy provides inspiration for those athletes who work hard, never give up hope, and have mountains of determination.
These books are a must in any high school library for obvious reasons. The typical high school is not full of stars, but full of talented kids. While the talent can only take them so far, the will shown in these stories of successful walk-ons will inspire any athlete with talent, heart, a dream, and the will of the underdog to reach for the stars.