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New FSM Feature: Recruiting 101 – Part 2

Franchise Sports Media

 

This is part 2 of Franchise Sports Media’s four-part series on recruiting. Griffin Kemp dives into his time as a collegiate walk-on player and gives you a look into the recruiting world from a former Division 1 football player’s perspective.

 

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National Signing Day during my senior year was also my first day back to school after having surgery to repair my knee. Throughout my recovery time, I had dreaded signing day since losing all my scholarship opportunities due to my injury. Although I wanted to be a part of celebrating with my teammates and families by signing the National Letter of Intent, my journey took me on a different route to living my dreams.

Going through signing day and not having a college offer might be one of the most challenging days an athlete can go through. It certainly was one of the lowest moments in my life. Yet, despite how hard it was, my motivation and belief in my abilities prevented me from giving up and helped me stay determined to get a scholarship.

Recruiting 101‘ continues with coverage of my experience as a walk-on and shared stories from former teammates, fully explaining the different components of this opportunity for student-athletes.

 

Finding Your Opportunity

 

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There are multiple ways to find an opportunity to walk onto a college team. If a coach begins recruiting you in high school but does not offer you a scholarship, they may offer you a spot on the team with a chance to earn the scholarship down the road. This type of offer is considered a preferred walk-on opportunity. This usually means the coaching staff liked you as a prospect but decided not to offer you a scholarship in order to facilitate other needs on their team.

Being a preferred walk-on has its perks but is not much different than a regular walk-on opportunity. A coach may help a preferred walk-on through the process of applying to their school to get them on campus quicker, but can’t guarantee they will be accepted if they don’t meet the institution’s requirements. Once a preferred walk-on is enrolled into the school and gets on the field, any special treatment stops there. From that point, they must work to earn their opportunities the same as every other player on the squad without a scholarship.

Being a preferred walk-on is a great way to get on a team, but not everyone finds an opportunity this easily. After my senior season, I wasn’t offered a spot on any team, and I was forced to look for opportunities on my own. After fully recovering from my surgery a few months after graduation, I began emailing all of the coaches that had previously recruited me. I started the process this way, hoping it would give me a better chance to get on a team that was already familiar with me as a player. After months of not hearing back, I finally received an email from a coach at the University of Utah offering me a shot and giving me a start to my college career.

 

Appreciation for the Opportunity.

 

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As someone who grew up playing football, being a walk-on always had a negative stigma for me; I initially viewed it as a path for those who were not good enough to play at the next level and assumed it was something to be embarrassed about. I held on to this view of walk-ons even as I began my career at the University of Utah. However, as I started the journey and got to meet other athletes who were on similar paths, I began to become more appreciative of the benefits being a walk-on provided me.

As a walk-on player, you are a member of the program and fully involved in all team activities. You are put through the same strength and conditioning program as the rest of the team that allows you to develop as an athlete. You compete on the practice field with the team and receive guidance from coaches. You are given access to the same resources for academic help that every scholarship player is provided. Along with all of this, you are also given a chance to continue playing the sport you love. That in itself is something to appreciate.

Kyle Lanterman is a former University of Utah offensive lineman and a friend I gained during my first year in college, having connected through our mutual statuses as freshman walk-ons. Kyle, who is originally from Long Beach, California, had been an excellent high school player but was overlooked due to his size and the competition that was around him. Kyle never saw himself becoming a walk-on in high school. Still, when faced with the possibility of not playing football anymore, he was grateful to have the opportunity to suit up and continue playing for a great program.

My dream was to play at a division 1 school and to play on the big stage. I wanted to do what the big boys were doing because that’s where I thought I belonged mentally and physically,” Lanterman said. “I was happy to be going to Utah just because I thought they were an up-and-coming power five school. So even though I was a walk-on, there was pride in being able to join that team.”

Finding appreciation for a walk-on spot after having worked for so long to get a scholarship can be very difficult, but putting things into perspective can reveal just how lucky an opportunity it is.

Many players who decide to become walk-ons don’t receive a guarantee to be on the team.  Chris Flood, a former defensive lineman at Cal Poly and one of the first teammates I met when I arrived to continue my journey at San Luis Obispo, also played high school football in California.  He had not received any offers after his senior season and decided to enroll at Cal Poly with hopes of joining the team. After circumstances that opened a spot for him on the roster, Flood was reassured in his decision.

When I ended up deciding to go to Cal Poly, I was not guaranteed a chance to be able to play. I loved football, so I was pretty bummed out knowing I might not be playing in the future.”, Flood said. “So, when I did get that opportunity to walk-on, I was thrilled just knowing I was going to be on the roster.”

Having an opportunity to continue playing football while also getting a degree is something that players should take on with gratitude. However, it is crucial to keep in mind that there are still difficulties and struggles that come with the path of walking onto a team.

 

The struggles of being a walk-on.

 

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The biggest challenge of walking onto a team, for most players, is having to pay for their tuition along with the rest of the expenses of attending college. Scholarship players are given a stipend that offers them money for food, entertainment, clothing, and all other costs outside of football. Walk-on players are expected to pay for all of these expenses themselves. Whether receiving assistance from family or student loans, walk-on players shoulder the responsibility of covering the costs of attending school.

Paying for college expenses can put a lot of pressure on student-athletes. There is a high expectation to do well in the classroom while also performing on the field to maintain a spot on the team and earn a scholarship as soon as possible to avoid further debt. For the first few years at Utah, Kyle experienced this pressure and saw how it made a difference in his experience in college compared to his teammates who were on scholarship.

Doing well in school is the standard; that itself was a struggle,” Lanterman said. “I remember during final’s week sitting in my room, and my roommate who was on scholarship was playing video games while I was studying hard just trying to pass the class so I could stay on the team.

As a walk-on, your college experience is not only different from your teammates but also differs from other students who are attending and paying for college the same as you. Regular college students are expected to pay for their expenses, but they have more freedom in their workweek. In contrast, walk-on players are expected to pay tuition like regular students while also taking on the workload of student-athletes.

As much as he enjoyed playing football, Chris also knew he was taking on more struggles than most of the other students at Cal Poly.

I noticed all of these students going out socializing and having that full college experience, and they were students who were paying the same amount of money and attending the same classes that I was, but I had another 30 to 40 hours a week on top of my schedule,” Flood said. “That was probably the toughest part was not being able to truly have that full college experience.”

It can be challenging to take on the burden of paying for college while also dedicating time to a work schedule that hardly allows for any free time. It may seem almost impossible to dedicate the time and consistency to the sacrifice required to make it as a walk-on, but those who endure to the end know just how sweet it is when the work is finally rewarded.

 

 Achieving the dream

 

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One thing I experienced in college that stood out to me was how many players ended up quitting and leaving the team each year. At every school I attended, a significant number of both walk-on and scholarship players left due to either not keeping up with grades or not fully dedicating themselves to the work required to play on the team.

There is no shame in a player deciding the workload of a student-athlete is too much for them to maintain. The number of players who leave a team shows just how hard it is to make it to this level of competition. It also speaks volumes about the guys who stick around and make it to see their work rewarded.

Both Kyle Lanterman and Chris Flood were among the few players who went through the difficult journey of being a walk-on and accomplished their goals of receiving a scholarship.

I was able to personally witness Chris receiving his scholarship as the announcement came during one of our end-of-summer camp banquets. Being put on scholarship was an achievement he earned through his dedication towards his work on the field and in the classroom and was a moment that will stick with him forever.

On one of the last days of camp, our coach began listing off players who were being put on scholarship, and when he eventually said my name, I was completely shocked. Looking back, that has to be one of the top days of my life.”, Flood said. “So many guys ended up quitting, so I think for me staying with it, going through all the practices, workouts, lifts, meetings, and being on top of my grades all came together to make that moment possible.”

As for Kyle, thanks to the social media team at Utah, I was able to see my friend receive his scholarship in a planned surprise announcement made by his mother, leading to him being swarmed in love and congratulations by his teammates. It was a great moment to witness, and, for Kyle, it made all of his sacrifices over the years well worth the wait.

I don’t remember it too much; I was just so amped up. I remember, though, it was the most fulfilling feeling, and it made it all worth it, every second.” Kyle said.

It’s these moments that show just how special it is when a player walks onto a team and earns a scholarship. They affirm that having a good work ethic, accountability, and unwavering love for the game of football can lead to achieving goals that may initially seem practically impossible.

Admittedly, my time as a walk-on was cut short due to my inability to hold to these standards. Had I been more diligent like my friends, perhaps I could have found the same success in my journey as a walk-on. Even though I wasn’t able to make the most out of my opportunity to walk on at Utah, my moment did come later on. The walk-on path may not be for every player, but other options are still available that can lead to success for those who genuinely want it.

Next in the series, we detail how junior college can be one of the last opportunities for dedicated players to gain a collegiate football scholarship. Be sure to follow Franchise Sports Media to stay up to date!

 

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Griffin Kemp – Franchise Sports Media

Follow Griffin on Twitter @GriffinKemp51

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