You’ve got the skills, but somehow a D-I scholly didn’t come through. What do you do next—walk on at the school that stiffed you on a ride, or check out other levels of college football? Recruiting expert Jack Renkens, president of Recruiting Realities, weighs in on the debate with some cold hard facts about life as a walk-on.
STACK: You hear stories all the time about walk-ons making scholarships. Are those typical experiences?
JR: Most walk-ons end up playing on the practice squad and become disillusioned with the game, because their experiences aren’t what they expected. They find the competition to be incredible and their dreams squashed. A lot of them end up transferring to other schools. But college coaches, sportscasters and newspapers just tell the wonder-stories of successful or preferred walk-ons who ended up with scholarships. Those success stories get athletes to walk on.
In some sports, like baseball, scholarships can be divided and awarded any way the school wants. Are walk-ons in those sports more likely to end up with some money?
JR: Yes, but it’s up to the student-athlete to address. If he walks on and contributes, he needs to go to the coach and say, “I came here and made a commitment to you. I played a lot this year and made a contribution. Are you going to give me any aid next year to come back?” You have to do this, because the coach won’t go to you and say, “You did such a great job for us last year, and you’re really developing into a great player. We’ll offer you some aid.”
Do college coaches give preference to their scholarship athletes?
JR: Absolutely. Look at it from the coach’s point of view. You offer an athlete a full ride; you’ve made a commitment to him; you believe in him; you want him to succeed; and you’ve let everyone know you think he’ll contribute right away. With a walk-on, you don’t really believe he’s big, strong or fast enough to compete at your level, but he can help in practice. You don’t want the media to come in one day and say, “You have a walk-on who’s playing in front of your scholarship kid.” So of course coaches give preferential treatment.
Do you think an athlete should pass up a 1AA, D-II or D-III opportunity to walk-on at a D-I school?
JR: I used to see this situation when I coached basketball at a D-II, full-scholarship program. I’d get a verbal commitment from a student-athlete, then I’d get that devastating phone call:
“Coach, I got bad news.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“Well, I’m going to walk on at this Division I school, because the coach wants me to.”
“You’re going to walk on?”
“Well, I’ve always wanted to play in the Big East”
“They’re not giving you anything, and we’re offering you a full ride. We believe in you. We believe you have the opportunity to get time as a freshman here.”
“Well, coach, so-and-so thinks I have a good shot.”
Every athlete needs to believe in himself; and a lot of athletes think, “I can play D-I, and I’ll go prove it.” It’s great if they want to go try, but my personal belief is go someplace where the coaches believe in you from the get-go, a place where you’ll have the best opportunity to play. Look for a commitment from the college coach, in terms of financial assistance, like a scholarship or financial aid package. If he’s not offering that, the coach is saying: “Right now, we’re not 100 percent behind you; we don’t really believe you can play in our program, but if you want to try, OK.” If the coach offers you a scholarship or financial aid—at the Division III level—he’s saying he believes in you and your talents, and he want you to be a part of his program.