Q: If I walk-on and am good, can I eventually earn scholarship money and/or get playing time?
A: Yes, if you are able to provide quality backup minutes to a starter, you will probably earn playing time and possibly a scholarship – but it may take you a few seasons. I’ve worked with walk-ons who saw significant playing time, who earned scholarships and who were major contributors to the team, but they were players who put in the work, were patient and most importantly—had a positive and relentless attitude. They had to wait for their opportunity, and had to make the most of it when they got their chance. Many of them didn’t get their chance until their junior or senior year.
Making the team as a walk-on gets your foot in the door, it gets you a shot at practice. Treat practice as your games and realize that any reps that you get are critical, treat them with respect and make the most of them. If you are on scout team, focus on doing whatever you can to prepare the starters.
Coaches are looking for “difference makers” who can help them win games. While most players are just trying to get the ball or spotlight, focus on what you can become a specialist at that can help your team win games. You may never be the leading scorer but you can become the best blocker, toughest rebounder or difference-maker on special teams—and those advantages and strengths you can bring to your team can help you earn a scholarship or starting job.
Walk-ons (and scholarship players) must understand this: rosters are fluid. Players quit, transfer, get injured, are suspended, are academically ineligible, etc. Depth charts change weekly, sometimes daily. Even during games—the season is long— adversity strikes and some positions lack depth. You never know when your opportunity will come—but from my experiences, almost every player I’ve worked with got their chance or had their “moment,” but not every player is patient enough to work and wait for it.
1. Do the dirty work that some scholarship players may not be as focused on – special teams, rebounding, dive for balls, play defense, etc. Do the acts that help win games but may not get the attention or flash! Coaches are looking for these type of unselfish players. What can you do WITHOUT the ball in your hand?
2. Focus on being consistent with the fundamentals—not a superstar. Coaches want players who play textbook fundamentals, players who are tough and relentless. Don’t try to make the superstar ESPN plays—focus on making the textbook tackle, making your assignment on each play, blocking for your teammates, etc. Win the one-on-one.
If your coaches TRUST you, they’ll eventually play you. Coaches love players who play great fundamentals, who hustle and who are tough. No matter your size, skill or speed—these are traits you can always work on.
3. Practice is your opportunity. Do anything to help your starters get ready. Be selfless. Hustle. The film does not lie—what will is say about you? Be the player who wants it the most. Hustle.