Reaching signing day without a scholarship offer is a situation that nobody imagined that they’d be in. Maybe you didn’t get the opportunities you thought you would in order to get recruited, maybe you weren’t yet physically developed enough to get that scholarship offer (which plays a big factor in football), or maybe you just didn’t receive an attractive enough offer to commit.
Whatever the case may be, the harsh reality is that while an uncommitted athlete after signing day has a few different courses to take, all of them require an incredible amount of grit and determination. You might have a grayshirt or blueshirt offer, but that doesn’t guarantee a scholarship. The next road to take could be a junior college, but there might not be one close enough that offers football, or it might just not be a viable option for you. What’s left is the toughest route to take: walking-on.
Being a walk-on
Being a walk-on in college football means that you are “trying out” for the team. There are preferred walk-ons (PWOs), who receive a little bit more attention when they first arrive at fall camp, but they are still evaluated as if they are anybody else walking on. Their roster spot is not ensured. As a walk-on, you’re going to have a target on your back: you’re going to get very little reps at practice, you have to make up the scout team, and you’re going to be left out of most of the team amenities that scholarship players enjoy.
Taking the walk-on route in college football weighs heavy on a player’s pride: where they might have been the star within their high school bubble, they now find themselves feeling like they’re at the bottom of the barrel. Coaches are going to be disinclined to give you credit or even give you meaningful reps at practice. They make a living around football and a large part of it is evaluating talent and bringing it to the school they’re employed at.
Michael Collins, a walk-on at Alabama said about the nature of walking-on: “You have to be perfect and cannot mess up.” As a walk-on, you’re somebody who went under the radar and it’s hard for any coach, especially in football where machismo is ingrained in the game, to admit that they missed a gem. The odds are going to be stacked against you and there is no room for taking days off. Your best effort is needed in every moment if you want to be successful. It’s up to you to show everyone in the program that the school was wrong not to let you join the team.
Why to be a walk-on
Now, why would someone want to take a tough road like walking on? The answer lies in the athletes themselves. A person who chooses to be a walk-on – a normal walk-on or a PWO – is someone who is exceptionally driven. They have a desire to compete at the next level, believe in their skills, and are willing to take chances to succeed; they are the Baker Mayfields, the Clay Matthews, and the Hunter Renfrows of the world. If they made the choice not to walk-on and give up on football after high school, we wouldn’t have their stories that inspire the wider football world.
One great thing about being a walk-on is that it allows you to be in control of where you play in college. It’s an athlete’s dream to have offers from every school around and have free reign to pick where they want to go, but not everyone has that luxury. In reality, athletes in most cases take what they can get and choose the best option from their limited choices. Because a walk-on has no formal ties or commitments, they can evaluate schools and choose where to take their talents. They can look at things like a free agent: location, where they would fit into the scheme, and many other factors come into play when making a decision where to walk on to. While being a walk-on means that there is hard work ahead, you at least have the option to choose where you play.
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