Recently, ESPN did a story on the “unsung heroes” of many college football teams—the walk-ons. They’re the players who weren’t necessarily recruited as high schoolers, but they “walk on” to the field to try out for the team anyway. They know they have a lot more to prove than the other players who were already recruited, so they have to work extra hard to earn their place, their position, and especially a scholarship. The ESPN story goes on to say that when walk-ons are recognized by their coaches and awarded scholarships, that’s when the cheers from the rest of the team are the loudest.
The story took me back to my days on the Purdue football team when Jim and I were both walk-ons at the start of our freshman year. We weren’t heroes, by any means—sung or unsung—we just really wanted to play for Purdue. Our high school coach advised us against it, saying we’d just get lost among all those star players. But we were determined. So we spent that summer working out at the Purdue facility, where some of the other players who were in town got to know us. To them, we were “the twins,” just two local, skinny kids. But I also think they saw we were hardworking, and it helped us win their respect.
That season, Jim and I both made the team, and even more incredibly, we both went on to play on scholarship. We were extremely fortunate to have had each other throughout the experience; we could push each other and cheer for each other. The students in the ESPN story who walk on and don’t even know anybody are tougher than we ever had to be. But the one thing any walk-on knows is that you can’t expect to prove you’re a scholarship player unless you’re 110% committed.
There were those who said we couldn’t do it then, and there are still things people say we can’t do now. Sometimes, there are even things we tell ourselves we can’t do, because we’re too old, or too busy, or too late. But walking on taught me that if you work hard enough, and if you use the skills and talents you have, you can accomplish a lot of things people say you can’t accomplish, even though you might not have some of the skills and talents others have. Just believe you can do it, train hard, and have some extra determination when you’re almost to the top of the mountain.