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You would be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t sat as a spectator at a sporting event and dreamed of being out on the field in hopes of making the highlights on ESPN. For most people, these dreams remain just that – dreams. Some aren’t satisfied with simply dreaming. They are the people who decided to act on their aspirations.
They are known as walk-ons.
Usually former high school players, for whatever reason, were unable to secure a spot on the team as a recruit entering college. Walk-ons are players who sacrifice time from their schoolwork, social lives, and free time in hopes of getting a spot on the team.
Sophomore Andre Nichols, a defensive-end from Colorado Springs, walked on to the football team in the spring of 2011. Not suiting up every day to hit the gridiron and knock helmets with teammates was a strange feeling for him. In a sense, a part of him was missing.
“I was tired of not doing anything,” Nichols said. “It was weird coming to school and not being a football player for once. To not have that sense of identity is kind of weird. So I decided to walk on to see what I could do. I wanted to prove to myself that I could play at this level.”
Nichols made the team, but has struggled to see any playing time on the field. His recently acquired broken jaw has been a setback, but he sees it as only a minor obstacle. He’s used his time off to bulk up and prepare for a comeback year in 2012.
The sacrifices to play collegiate football are enormous. Nearly every moment that isn’t being spent in a classroom is spent preparing for the game. Sophomore running back Josh Ford from Denver wasn’t taken back and knew what he was getting into the moment he put his helmet on for the first time.
“It’s been time consuming, but it’s what you sign up for, it’s what you want to do,” Ford said. “I’ve adjusted. I just come in and work hard and compete. You have guys all around you so the competition has been great.”
The transition didn’t come so easy for Nichols.
“As far as time, it’s rough,” Nichols said. “You’re there from 2-7 every day. On the field, the biggest thing I had to adjust to was the speed and the intensity. Way more intense, way more detail oriented. If you mess up, someone will notice. If they didn’t, then they’ll see it on film.”
With the issues of adjusting to the life behind them, there’s an even larger concern for walk-ons. Unlike the majority of the players who were recruited by the school and chosen to be there by the coaching staff, they have to go the extra mile to show why they deserve to be there.
Beyond the notion of not being good enough, walk-ons deal with coaches and players looking for any reason to question why they were even allowed to suit up.
“Of course as a walk on you have a little more to prove,” Nichols said. “You have more of a responsibility to show out and prove that you should be there.”
Defensive end Casey Walker dealt with the pressure and not only earned his right to lace up, but also the respect of his teammates.
“The team has treated me great,” Walker said. “The upperclassmen have shown me a lot of respect that I wouldn’t expect. Obviously you’re working from the bottom up, so it’s a lot of hard work and you can’t take any days off.”
To earn the respect of the players and coaches, walk-ons need to work hard day in and day out. Those who merely suit up and go through the motions don’t get very far in the eyes of teammates and coaches.
A staunch work ethic, coupled with a pure hunger and desire to get out there and knock around a few people isn’t good enough.
For walk-ons, you have to do more than good enough.
“All you have to do is come in and compete and make the coaches see you,” Ford said. “Earn their respect. You need to come out and work so they can see what you can do. The team sees you working and they’ll catch on, so all you have to do is come out and work and give it your all. You can’t just come out with a jersey on and think you’re on the team. You have to work every day. Never be satisfied.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Shay Knolle at Shay.email@example.com