Mickey Moss is a successful coach and administrator who received a master's degree from the University of Texas at Austin in athletic administration with emphasis in exercise physiology. Walk-ons should heed his advice “goals are good but without a system of practiced habits in place, goals alone will not lead to success”.
In late February of 2019 I contacted Rick Allen, and asked him about the origin of the college football term “walk-on” and the origin of the term “preferred walk-on” . His comments follow:
The NCAA has allowed walk-ons since the organization began. We know this because there aren't, and never have been, enough scholarships for every member of every team at each university.
The term "preferred" walk-on is a term made up by the college coaches and only means whatever that coaching staff wants it to mean. You won't find the term "preferred walk-on" in the NCAA rules or terminology.
“They (a walkon) will always be needed because they give coaches plenty of bodies to practice with, and plenty of scout-team players to simulate other team's offense, defense, and sets".
At one school, 'preferred' might mean you have a guaranteed spot for a year, but at another it might mean that while you don't have to go through an open tryout, there's still no roster guarantee.
Another distinction is that Division I walk-ons deemed to have been recruited who then want to transfer to another Division I school must sit out a year, just like scholarship players.
Founder - Informed Athlete
- 25+ years NCAA Rules Expertise, including Director of Compliance at 2 major DI schools
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- Parent of a former DI and II baseball player
Reggie White from the Philadelphia Eagles once said always dream big and reach for the stars because even if you miss you will still be among the stars. To reach the stars a walk-on should set a goal of starting not just making the team. Gary Brackett says “ we can only rise to the level of our expectations”.
It is important to have love ones who believe in you. That catalyst will eventually be the key to believing in yourself. At some point a walk-on must understand that attitude can be more important than skills. A walk-on who can master his attitude will understand that failure is a learning experience and a path to success. Failure is the beginning not the ending of a quest.
Walk-ons should also understand that when opportunity knocks , it may be a subtle moment instead of blaring horns. So prepare yourself for the opportunity of winning as a walk-on by listening with your heart-not your head. Do NOT depend on anyone but yourself to seize the moment when it arrives and know that if you do not seize it immediately someone else will.
The movie “Rudy” is an inspirational and heart warming movie about a young man who is small and slow who walks-on at Notre Dame and in his final game experiences a moment of glory. If your only motivation to walk-on is this movie, then don’t bother. What most vicarious dreamers of glory don’t remember about the movie is the years of hard work Rudy endured to celebrate his moment.
History is replete with walk-ons who cannot adjust to the ugly side of trying to make a team as a non-scholarship player. Going to classes and staying motivated on the practice field is difficult , and most will not succeed. Making the team, even the practice squad, is difficult. According to WVU's Dorchester, about 70 walk-ons try out for their team every year and only five are invited to the practice squad.
A walk-on must understand that everyday at practice is game day for them and the only key to success is winning the game every day.
The first to quit are walk-ons who are only motivated by glory instead of the spirit of the game. Carl Vergari was a Texas walk-on his senior year who loved the spirit of the game. He said “I love the game”. “It wasn’t about playing time. I just loved being part of a team.” From my personal experience playing for the Longhorns, you can love the game and the team bond without enjoying practice. Players who love practice, running sprints, participating in agility drills, lifting weights , yelling from the coaches, and brutal contact are a little strange. Practice must be tolerated and accepted as part of the process to reach a goal. .
“You can’t put a stop watch on heart or determination” Tim Lavin
Even if a walk-on loves the game and tolerates practice, the athlete still needs some talent and luck to make the team. Coaches select the team members based on need not necessarily talent. A great walk-on running back will probably not make the team if the two deep for Texas is Ricky Williams and Priest Holmes.
Walk-on’s and their parents must also understand and accept that there is an unspoken hierarchy in selecting team members. Since Coaches are graded on the success or failure of athletes who get a “full ride”, they will focus their coaching skills on the scholarship players first. There is also an unspoken rule that if two players with equal talent walk-on and one is a “legacy” longhorn (one whose father or brother have brought honor to the Longhorn nation) he will be chosen to join the team.
Walk-ons must realize that they will be treated differently . Gary Brackett says in his book Winning that walk-0ns need to prepare to “get fewer chances and less leeway for mistakes.” Gary Brackett said “I embraced my walk-on mentality and tried to do more with less.” Tim Lavin in his book Walk-on U written in 2013 warns walk-ons to be prepared to be “ignored, valued but scorned, and encouraged but held back. “ “Walk-ons are not regular people.” He says that as walk-ons they will “experience a lifetime of emotions during just a few short years.” Tim Lavin says that Walk-ons are a victim of the system. “Internally , the coaches think differently about you, players don’t treat you equally, and you walk on eggshells with every step you take and every move you make.” Get use to being a tackling dummy and cannon fodder for the scholarship players.
Late 1950’s to 1964.
Tommy Lucas says about playing in the early 60’s “There were 96 in the team picture of my freshman year of 1959 and not all of them were scholarship players! There were no NCAA scholarship limits in those days so a college could give as many as their athletic department could afford. Most schools gave what were called a partial scholarship…. The scout team was made up mostly of these kind of players and they practiced on a different field away from the top 3 varsity teams. Of the 96 in the freshman class football picture there were only 13 of us left my senior year of 1962. Many of the 96 were either grade casualties or they transferred to another school because of not getting to play.
There are two walk-on stories about the 1967 team. This was one of the first years that football scholarships were limited to 50 by the NCAA. As Tommy Lucas says about the early 1960’s “there were no scholarship limits”. The days of offering partial scholarships to many players just to keep them from playing for a competitor were gone. In 1967 the Texas freshman class had 45 signed scholarship athletes and , 13 walkon’s competing for those 5 open scholarships but only two were given - Stan Mauldin and Happy Feller. By this recruiting classes senior year, there were still 28 members of the 58 freshmen still remaining. These 28 were known as the “Worster Bunch” and these athletes won two national championships, three Conference Championships, and played in all the games of the 30 game win streak.
1967 recruiting class