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August 27, 2014

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.





The numbers from Wisky are amazing. There will always be a few guys that fly under the radar, through grit and determination, succeed in whatever they attempt. Also guys that are late bloomers that develop physically later than most. The one thing they all have in common is that they love football and they love Pitt, what could be better than that.

They are also guys that would prefer to sit on the bench, with a chance to play at the highest level, rather than start at a D2 school. Not right or wrong just a personal choice.

Great to see Pitt and Chryst welcome and encourage these guys.

Comment by gc 08.27.14 @ 7:39 am

Still like to see more 4 and 5 stars Reed, LOL. But I do agree, there are future Blue Chippers with lower or no numbers beside their name.

Comment by gc 08.27.14 @ 7:42 am

Reed, more great info, thanks again, but I don’t think Shane Roy is a walk-on

Comment by wbb 08.27.14 @ 7:47 am

wbb – thanks and corrected. There may be more mistakes – I did this kind of fast last night.

Comment by Reed 08.27.14 @ 8:29 am

Interesting, but what does this have to do with new ACC money? walk-ons are free other than equipment. I don’t think they are allowed to even eat at the training table. I wasn’t when I was a soccer walk-on

Anyway kind of sad that our starting punter and long-snapper weren’t on scholarship

Comment by Jamie H 08.27.14 @ 8:43 am

You may get a star or two out of walk-ons but more importantly they are an integral part of practice and scout teams. The better the walk-ons the better the competition in practice. They also can add depth when scholarship players unexpectedly leave the program or are injured. It is an important part of the program.
Good write up on players that usually go unnoticed.

Comment by notrocketscience 08.27.14 @ 8:48 am

Some kids are still growing and learning at age 17, 18, etc.

Comment by Frank MD 08.27.14 @ 8:56 am

There is a misconception about walk on’s from the average Joe or Joanna college fan.

Not here on the Blather, but out in public.

Like they are some lump, that a coach grabbed off the street.

I’ve always known and realized, walk on’s are many times the best athlete from their high school, having been playing basketball or football most of their lives.

May be a bit undersized, but if you played them in a game of pick up, you’d get blitzed.

Often there heart is huge, because they just want to play the game, help the team, for nothing more than, they want too!

Comment by Dan 08.27.14 @ 9:27 am

I was wondering about the “cutting loose”. I know there have been some the past couple years from Dixon, where a player “transfers” and people have said the player wasn’t really asked back.

I haven’t heard that with the football team. Does that happen?

Are there just so many players, that it usually is someone that is way down on the bench, and they don’t even publish it?

I’ve never been a fan of the concept of playing players, but I do believe when you offer a kid a scholarship, it should be for 4 years to get their degree.

Really though, just wondering about the football team, never hear of anyone being asked to leave?

Comment by Dan 08.27.14 @ 9:32 am

The traditional ‘walk on’ is why us Blatherites love college football on Saturdays over the NFL. It’s what college sports is all about. Some kid with potential walking on the team and EARNING a scholarship by shear determination and hard work. It is unfortunate that college football is about to phase out of these long held traditions and is heading towards unionized player organizations, paid ‘salaries’,autograph and memorabilia income, etc. I fear entitlement is overtaking ‘earning it’ and with it the great traditions of collegiate athletics is rapidly coming to an end.

Comment by pittman4ever 08.27.14 @ 9:36 am

RUDY RUDY RUDY

Comment by chethejet 08.27.14 @ 9:44 am

Dan, remmeber, most scholarships are one year deals where the school has the option to renew. Of course, the player can transfer but usually has to sit out a year.

IF Dixon (and many other coaches) are at the schollie limit (13) but someone becomes available that can really help the team, he will tell the player that his schollie is not being renewed and then help him find a place to go.

I really don’t like this practice but it’s part of the deal

Comment by wbb 08.27.14 @ 9:48 am

John Guy & Jacob Craig were just given scholarships. Good for them. I like that the program is expanding. If even 1 guy contributes every few years it’s worth it.

Comment by Nick 08.27.14 @ 9:52 am

I still have my letter from Dave Hart asking me to walk on at Pitt….and I was an atrocious HS football player.

I am thrilled that HCPC and Pitt have continued this program. It adds heart and soul to our program. It IS what differentiates college football.

Comment by Dan 72 08.27.14 @ 10:08 am

Dan, I didn’t completely answer your question. There have been plenty of 4 year players on FB team with another year of eligibility (redshirt) left that have been asked to leave the program if they are not on the depth chart. A handful of times recently, Pitt will have something like 20 available schollies (85 is limit) but end up bringing in 23 commitments (or more) .. this remedied by tranfers and the situation decsribed above.

I knew a 3-star OL who committed to Walt, and reached #2 on depth chart in his sophomore eligible year (worked with his aunt.) By the time he was senior eligible he was on 3rd team, he was asked (told) by Wanny that he wasn’t being renewed.

It was a win-win — he was a good student and received his degree in his 4 years, and now is gainfully employed … and remains to this day, a solid Pitt guy

Comment by wbb 08.27.14 @ 10:12 am

Thanks wbb!

Comment by Dan 08.27.14 @ 10:29 am

Jamie – those extra players have to be fed, equipped, training room times and supplies, lockers, shirts & shorts, transported places, etc… It is amazing how much PITT spends to outfit and care for a single player throughout the year.

And yes, they now have the exact same training table food rights as everyone else – which is basically free food all day in football and practice seasons. Spring camp, fall camp and the season itself…

link to ncaa.org

gc – I’ll take more highly rated kids also. My point wasn’t that walk-ons replace any scholarship recruits only that if it is done correctly they can greatly supplement a program as shown by the Wisconsin model. We’ll still have 85 scholarships but an additional dozen or so players who can contribute in many ways – including being starters and then even star players.

Comment by Reed 08.27.14 @ 11:06 am

Reed, no need to defend your article, I agree wholeheartedly and was making an attempt at humor.

Comment by gc 08.27.14 @ 1:15 pm

Any chance that we can have a “Game One Preview: Cheerleaders” post? They are (sort of) members of the special teams unit. And I am thinking of the girl cheerleaders, not guys (if we have guys).

H2P

Comment by pmdH2P 08.27.14 @ 1:57 pm

gc – I knew your intent and chuckled at it. Then I remembered my responsibility to inform and thus did so.

My bill will be in the mail today. Thanks you,

Reed

Comment by Reed 08.27.14 @ 2:51 pm

pmdH2P – Here is a shot of the 2014 PITT cheerleaders I took from the back deck of my beach house on the Outer Banks.

link to grfx.cstv.com

To tell the truth, it was like herding kittens to get the girls dressed and sober enough to take the photo but we pulled it off. Good thing I had the whip and the electric prod with me for the weekend.

These girls have funny names that you don’t hear everyday, at least they introduce themselves with funny names. Maybe they don’t want me to know their real names which I think is a bit insulting after I bought 100 cases of 2002 Perrier-Jouët Rosé Fleur de Champagne and seven ounces of uncut Peruvian blow for the weekend. We didn’t really eat that much, for some reason everyone’s appetite just kind of died away after that first “Welcome To Paradise” party I always throw for my beach house guests.

My two favorite two young women are the girls on the top row at the ends – the brunette on the left is always smiling and is called “Lickety” and her blond BBF on the right end is called “Split” which I still find hilarious. Every time I yelled “Get me a burger, Lickety Split!” they would get in the Hummer and drive 134 miles to the nearest McDonalds. They are not really the sharpest knives in the drawer you’d say.

I promised Theresa Nuzzo, their coach, that I’d take real good care of the girls since Theresa was not able to make the trip herself. She was tied up mainly because I sent her, her husband and those little bastard brats of theirs to Paris for a week. So I did random “head checks” and always seem to come up two short. I couldn’t understand why until one girl told me that “Lickety and Split split” like that was supposed to make some sort of girly sense to me. My head hurt too much to pursue that line of conversation and it was starting to feel like I was in a Dr.Suess book.

Strange thing is that we ended up finding them by accident in a lipstick lesbian bar in Corolla, NC (don’t ask why I was there, my feet are still sore).

Anyway, I’m still tired and can’t walk too well so I have to say goodbye.

Comment by Reed 08.27.14 @ 3:18 pm

Reed,
Wow, that update on the cheerleaders really shows your commitment to keep us Blatherites informed. LOL!

Comment by PittPT 08.27.14 @ 4:50 pm

GREAT article Reed!

Comment by Atlanta Panther 08.27.14 @ 6:11 pm

Absolutely fantastic news, great piece and why we LOVE college football. If we get 1 abriderris every 5 years this program will be worth it’s weight in gold. 15 NFL players in 24 years, JJ Watt- are you kidding me? Love it.

Let me also just add one thing, High School coaches. You know how you earn their respect? You give their boys, especially the ones who appear more mind than body, a chance to play. This pay dividends in many ways.

Good for Chryst.

Comment by PittHW 08.27.14 @ 6:18 pm

Corolla has all those pertified tree stumps on the beach and those wild horses that always shit on the beach and run away to the bay side. Love to walk there up to the Va. border chain link barrier. That’s were the VA. Tech cheerleaders hang out.

Can’t believe Rutgers is 8 points underdog to Wash. State.(Thurs evening game.) This a major event for my family on both sides. One part of this just finished a 5 year Med.fellowship at Pitt.

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 08.27.14 @ 8:12 pm

The walk-on who I was impressed with was Khari Anderson. If you watch his highlight video you’d think he’s surely a 3-star recruit. Can’t believe no one offered this kid.

Shane Roy isn’t a walk-on, you must have meant someone else…

Go Pitt.

Comment by MajorMajors 08.27.14 @ 9:47 pm

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