Football Walk-On

 *The following opinions are based off of the UGA football program and players. Many statements may be over-generalized in order to make my point clear.

 

The dream of every little boy who puts on football pads for their first pee-wee game is to play college football. Unfortunately for most, that dream may only come true by choosing a smaller Division-II or III school or attempting to walk-on at a bigger school without the guarantee of ever seeing the field. It is that knowledge that lends us the insight to know that walk-on football players are there for one reason: the love of the game.

 

While college is admittedly the best years of one’s life, there remain many challenges to overcome along the way, including passing exams, seeking future career opportunities and handling finances. Now add 11½ months of strenuous physical workouts, daunting team meetings and straight-up abusive football practices to the mix—all with little or no playing time on gameday, athletic scholarship or public recognition. What does that leave? Extreme dedication to the sport.

 

Walk-on players may not throw a first-down or intercept a touchdown pass, but they are invaluable assets to a successful team. They pad the team, if you will. Walk-ons boost graduation rates and act as human dummies at practice.

 

All you have to do is look at the recent lists of UGA’s graduating players (below) to notice how few of the names stand out as starting, scholarship athletes. Statistics over the past few years have left UGA officials boasting about the team’s high graduation ranking, but little credit is given to the walk-on players that have boosted this percentage. The explanation to this is simple: walk-on players were, are and will be students first. They were admitted to the school based on their academics, rely on academic scholarships to pay tuition and will go on to use their education in further, non-athletic career, choices. Students who were recruited for the football team, on the other hand, do not have to make academics as great of a priority. Even with the numerous walk-ons aiding the team’s graduation rate, coach Mark Richt can only claim 172 degree-holding players after his ninth season in 2010.

 

Recent Graduates:

May 2010—Geno Atkins, Marquise Brown, Shaun Chapas, Kris Durham, Justin Fields, Devin Hollander, Casey Nickels, Christian Norton, Kevin Perez, Vernon Spellman, Coleman Watson, and Brandon Wheeling;

May 2011—Jonathan Batson, Drew Butler, Matt Degenova, Darius Dewberry,
Tony Gilbert, Chad Goler, Logan Gray,
Josh Murray, Cortney Newmans, Tanner Strickland, Brandon Wood.

 

While off the field walk-ons are usually working harder in the classroom, on the practice field they are taking the brunt of the work, too. During practices, there are few times when the offensive and defensive starting lines will face each other. Instead, walk-on players must learn all of the plays and go up against the men that will play on Saturday. This method protects starters physically and allows the coaches to devote greater attention to one side at a time; the walk-ons, however, are merely there to act as bodies during a play. Day after day, they show up and throw themselves at 300 lbs. linemen, all because they love the opportunity to play the sport for a few more years—even without the reward of playing a single down on gameday.

 

This article is not written to gain sympathy for walk-on players, there are many perks they receive along the way, but to highlight the valuable and unseen role they play on the football team. Though they may not dress out every game, they do receive the athletic clothing and gear; can use the athlete-only workout, eating, medical and study facilities; and forever get to claim alum-status of a top-ranked team. Plus, there is always a chance they may catch the coach’s eye and get playing time or a scholarship.

 

With only 85 spots on the field each week—less when traveling—it is impossible for every little boy with a dream to wear their idol-team’s jersey in college to get to play. Fortunately, they can experience the comradely and pride as a walk-on player, while still playing an important role in the team’s success. At the end of the day, the time required, the sweat poured out during practice and the thrill felt on a Saturday in Athens are the same for every player on the team—walk-on or recruit.

 

Carly Nash

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