Do you want to know how some of that ACC money is being spent and what dividends we’ll get out of spending it? Look no further than the growing PITT walk-on program. Walk-ons are an interesting breed with interesting rules attached to them.
There are two different types of walk-on players; the preferred walk-on and the regular walk-on.
The Preferred Walk-on is usually contacted by the school because they want the kid on standby for whatever reason, maybe because they know a player is leaving school and they want to have the preferred walk-on in place.
But he isn’t offered a scholarship directly out of high school as are regular recruits. They are given a promise that ‘at some time’ during the kid’s first training camp a spot on the roster will become available in the fall. Enter the practice of many coaches not inviting back players who are entering their fifth year of eligibility or targeting players they want off the roster for any reason. Cutting them loose allows those preferred walk-ons’ scholarships to magically appear if the staff wants to offer.
This allows the players a solid opportunity to stay on the roster, practice every day with the team thus staying in the staff’s awareness and also possibly get to travel to away games. It is a good first step to a scholarship if they can make the grade and prove they are worth the risk.
In a lot of cases these preferred walk-on players were on the school’s scholarship “Big board” during that year’s recruiting season but something happened to bump them off the scholarship list, maybe another player switched schools or a long-shot picked their university. Which leaves the player there for the picking but no scholarship has to be used by the receiving school before the National Letter of Intent (NLI) day in the beginning of Feburary.
The other is the Regular Walk-on. These are the kids the coaching staff has no idea about or have considered them not worthy of even a ‘preferred’ designation. Let’s not be fooled by that though, sometimes that only means the kid played at a small school conference that doesn’t get the attention of the recruiting services or the football staff. These kids are the true volunteers whose families are willing to pay their way through school as a regular student which is separate from the football program completely. It also means that given the level of play the staff sees from these kids, either during practices or running on the Scout Teams, they could be offered scholarships later on down the road.
These walk-on players, either kind, sometime had been offered scholarships at other schools but decide to try to get onboard at the school they are walk-ons to. You may think this is throwing money away but there are a couple factors in this decision. One maybe that the kid was a life-long fan of the school’s team and it’s his dream to play there. Another may be the Legacy factor where a player’s family members played at that school and they want to keep that tradition alive. When this happens it is usually because the school honors that legacy also.
One other point is by NCAA regulations these walk-on players cannot sign a Letter of Intent (LOI) which means that any other school can cherry pick them right off the school’s roster if they wanted to. So, if a school has a walk-on that is producing they want to protect the player with a scholarship as soon as possible. Walk-ons are usually given one year scholarships even now when schools are allowed to offer four year deals.
Another kinder gentler regulation has been passed that allow walk-ons the same training table privileges as the scholarship players not get which is basically unlimited food during the season.
So, why are we talking about this subject in so much detail? Because Paul Chryst is replicating the University of Wisconsin’s highly successful walk-on program here at PITT and it is going to start paying off big dividends for him very soon. Here’s what Whisky has done with their program:
“Over the past few decades, the Wisconsin football team has prided itself on being one of the premiere walk-on programs in the country.
Young players who may have been offered scholarships from smaller Division I schools or received no interest at all after high school have flocked to Madison where, since 1990, Barry Alvarez, then as head coach and now as athletic director, has emphasized the importance of giving these underdogs a chance to take the field for the Badgers.
The program has produced 141 letter winners, 11 team captains and 15 NFL players since 1990, including stars such as 2012 AP Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt and most recently, Jared Abbrederis who received the 2013 Burlsworth Trophy as the best player to begin his career as a walk-on.”
Two main points there – first is the real solid production and value these walk-ons generated on the football field and secondly is that they even give a prestigious award to the most successful walk-on in the program for that season. I talked with an acquaintance of my who went to UW and he said that the Burlsworth award was bigger than any of the others in the program because the whole team always pulls for the walk-ons to do well.
Are you kidding me? They had 15 kids in the NFL who started as a walk-on? Some schools would kill to do that even with their scholarship programs.
Chryst isn’t the first PITT coach to use walk-ons but he is the first in my memory to build it so deeply into the football program itself. In the past we have had good players who walked-on. Chas Alecxih is the first that comes to mind:
Alecxih, 25, went to college at Pittsburgh as a walk-on and eventually earned a scholarship his sophomore season. He played in 41 career games for the Panthers, recording 127 tackles, 33 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception and a blocked kick.
Alecxih’s story, at least what I heard, is an interesting one. PITT was debating using a scholarship on him but instead offered him a preferred walk-on status knowing that Alecxih’s father was a multi-millionaire in the housing construction business and could afford the costs at PITT. Then after his two years in the football program and with Chas playing very well DW locked him in with a full scholarship so no one else could poach him. As I said, that’s what I heard but I believe it.
Our current back-up QB Trey Anderson, a former championship QB in the biggest division in Texas, walked-on for Todd Graham in 2011 and was awarded a scholarship soon after. This kid stuck it out for four years as a back-up QB just so that he could play on the PITT team and get a PITT education. Yeah for him!
At the end of his initial training camp as the PITT head coach Chryst awarded four freshman walk-ons scholarships. From an Aug 16, 2012 Trib article;
“Last week, Kevin Barthelemy, Mark Giubilato, Chris Wuestner and Matt Yoklic were each awarded a scholarship by head coach Paul Chryst. Each situation is different for these four players, but the news was just as exciting in every case.”
Our probable 3rd WR Chris Wuestner was one of those, Giubilato was a starting FB in 2012, Kevin Barthelemy was our starting long snapper for two years and Matt Yoklic our starting punter for the last two years. Obviously Chryst knows the value of walk-ons and uses them.
This year we have at least 13 walk-ons as true freshmen. There are three that I’m keeping an eye on who may just contribute this season: Shane Roy at DE, DB Kahri Anderson and QB Joe Repischak from Upper St. Clair. I really liked Repischak when I watched him in practice. He turned down other offers from some Ivy League schools just to get onto the roster at PITT and at 6’3″ and 220 lbs he’s built like a D1 QB. His arm strength is good and his accuracy looked fine to me. I’m surprised he didn’t get more D1 offers, like from PITT!, after his SR year. I’ll bet a paycheck he’s on the roster as a scholarship player sooner than later.
In addition Jameel Poteat is a walk-on RB who will most probably be getting a good amount of playing time in 2015 as he also is a transfer who has to sit out this year, he’ll have a scholarship by then I bet; George Aston bench pressed 440 lbs in HS and is at LB for us and Jacob Craig, another LB, has already been awarded a scholarship after his first camp.
Here’s a throwback for a 1st team All-American who walked on at PITT:
Averell Daniell, 1936 tackle
In 1936, Averell Daniell became a walk-on All-American. Daniell, who was from nearby Mt. Lebanon High School, was known as a thinking man’s tackle. When asked to comment on Daniell, Coach Jock Sutherland called him “one of the smartest tackles Pitt has produced; he has no bad habits and learned how to play his position the right way.” He was later elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
These are all players who will contribute for us pretty much right away. They may not all be starters or even play that much but each kid who sticks it out season by season builds the program in other ways also.
Here is an interesting look at the day to day life of a college football walk-on. Here is a better article that I quoted a few weeks ago. Finally, here is the Walk-on Hall of Fame including walk-ons who made it big in other professions. These are great reading on this subject
Guys – I never turn my nose up at walk-on players like some fans do. The thing about college football is that you never truly know who will flourish and who will not. To exclude walk-on kids just because of that status is foolish in my opinion.