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Editor's Note: As the 2016-2017 school year approaches, many young athletes are preparing to step foot on the field, court or golf course. Many of those athletes have dreams of playing in college, but how does an athlete get to the next level?
That’s the question that we look to answer in this series, X’s and O’s of the recruiting process. For the next four weeks, we will talk with people who have seen the recruiting process unfold from different angles during their careers. We will talk with a former recruiting department employee, coaches and players that have earned scholarships or walked on to a university team.
While the focus will be primarily on football recruiting, the advice is still applicable to volleyball, basketball and track athletes as well. The process is nearly the same across all sports. While there may be slight variances in the way it is carried out, the idea is still the same. The biggest thing an athlete needs to do is get exposure. There are various ways to get that exposure to colleges and we will discuss that over the duration of the series.
In the final part of our series, we speak with Neligh-Oakdale graduate and former Husker Tyler Legate, as well as Boone Central/Newman Grove graduate and current Husker Wyatt Mazour. Legate was a three-year starter at fullback for Nebraska while Mazour is a current redshirt freshman who looks to make his mark as a running back and kick returner in 2016. They told us their walk-on stories and offered advice for potential walk-ons.
While many young kids dream of earning an all-expenses paid trip to college to play the sport of their choice, the reality is that there are only a few scholarships available. For example, most division one football teams take approximately 25 scholarships athletes in any given recruiting class.
However, the lack of available scholarships does not mean the end of the road for aspiring athletes. Most colleges will take on many walk-ons as well, non-scholarship athletes that are still members of the team, but they are paying their own way through school.
Nebraska is a state where the walk-on tradition is very prevalent. During the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ championship run in the 1990s, the walk-on program provided many athletes the chance to compete and contribute for the school. In 2015 against Rutgers, Nebraska listed 13 different walk-ons in their two-deep for the game, including five starters.
Neligh-Oakdale graduate Tyler Legate and Boone Central/Newman Grove graduate Wyatt Mazour are two members of the Nebraska walk-on tradition. Legate walked on to Nebraska in 2007 before eventually earning the starting fullback job in his three years for the Huskers. Mazour is currently a redshirt freshman for Nebraska after choosing to walk-on over scholarship offers from various division two and NAIA schools.
“It’s everybody’s dream and it was one of my dreams since I was a kid,” Mazour said of walking on at Nebraska.
There are multiple ways to earn a spot on a team as a walk-on. Many teams will reach out to athletes after they have filled their scholarships and extend a preferred walk-on offer. Many of these kids exhibited the abilities or characteristics a coach wants in a player and the coaches believe they can help the team, despite not being a scholarship athlete.
A preferred walk-on is guaranteed a spot on the team, like a scholarship athlete, but they must pay for their education in other ways. Mazour was considered a preferred walk-on.
Other walk-ons, such as was the case for Legate, have to find another way to join the team. Often, that is done through a walk-on tryout. The coaches for a school will host one or two tryouts a year that are open to students to showcase their athletic talents in hopes of impressing the coaches. A strong agility or 40 yard dash time can help an athlete get a chance with the team. Once on the team, it is up to the walk-on to push themselves in order to earn playing time.
“When I was on scholarship at South Dakota, if there was a walk-on, I got 10 chances to his one to do good,” explained Legate, who started his career at South Dakota before moving on to Nebraska. “As a walk-on for Nebraska, I got one to someone’s 10.”
Not only does a walk-on have to work harder when they are on the team, they tend to have to put in extra work to get the attention to become a walk-on. A walk-on should market themselves just like any other player. Often, they might see a player post similar numbers to theirs, yet the other player gets more attention.
“It’s frustrating,” said Mazour. “There’s a lot of luck involved.”
Mazour said, regardless of how frustrating it gets, to not give up. He went to as many camps as he could during the offseason to gain exposure to various coaches. He also took the time to send game film to coaches and even mailed and e-mailed coaches to keep himself on their radar.
“I truly believed I should be DI,” he said.
That mentality is one that anyone, walk-on or scholarship, should maintain if they want to reach that level. That is why Legate chose to leave South Dakota for Nebraska.
“I played in the Shrine Bowl with some kids that were actually playing a bit (at Nebraska) and I thought I paired up well with them,” he said.
Oftentimes, a coaching change at a school can mean more opportunity for a walk-on to earn a spot.
“When there’s a coaching change, guys get chances that they maybe wouldn’t have before,” said Legate, who joined the team after Bo Pelini took over as head coach. Mazour joined the team shortly after Mike Riley took over.
For any player, luck and timing can mean a chance to play football. If a player has dreams of playing college sports, but they are not getting the scholarship offers they want, it is important to keep working. Hard work is a staple of walk-ons and coaches take notice of the hardest working athletes on a team.
“Think about how much you really want it and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to be a collegiate athlete,” said Mazour.
As with any potential recruit, and possibly more so, it is important for a potential walk-on to keep a clean academic and social record. When colleges are trying to fill their team with walk-ons, they will look towards players that won’t cause them problems first. They will contact high schools and family members to find out what kind of a person a player is.
“Every day is a recruiting process,” said Legate.
Legate and Mazour encourage any athlete that aims to play college football to not give up. It is a tough process and many kids can get overlooked because they don’t put in the effort. If a player wants to walk-on, many times a college will have a walk-on coordinator or liaison that they can contact.