Walking on

Michael Pecha

Michael Pecha

A few student athletes do all the greuling training and endure all the long practices, but receive no scholarship compensation for their efforts.

They are SDSU’s walk-ons.

Some work hard and earn a scholarship eventually, and have the potential for a storybook college athletic career. Others get tired of not getting the playing time they want. Many quit before their four or five years are up.

“Most walk-ons do not make it four years,” SDSU men’s basketball coach Scott Nagy said. “It is tough to ask them to go through the same brutal routine as the other players, without the scholarship money. It make it difficult for a young man to stay on the team and to be positive.”

Nagy said that how many walk-ons is determined by the number of athletes already on the team. He said if they need more players they have tryouts, but this year, the 17 players might be all they need.

One sport that relies heavily on walk-on athletes is the wrestling team. There are 22 walk-ons on the team. Instead of hosting a tryout though, head coach Jason Liles said that he actively recruits walk-ons.

“We have a successful program and many young wrestlers want to be a part of that,” he said.

“They know we’ve had a good history of walk-ons who have gone on to become All-Americans. Also, many of them are coming here more for the education than for wrestling.”

Like many other sports, walk-ons in wrestling can eventually earn a scholarship.

“If we have an athlete who is doing things right, setting a good example, and helping others, we will give him some money,” Liles said.

Football is another sport where walk-ons, or non-scholarship athletes are recruited to play.

“Our non-scholarship athletes are truly recruited,” head football coach John Stieglmeier said.

“They know we can’t offer everyone a scholarship, but they want to play. We have walk-ons starting for us. We look for good, quality student-athletes and once they get into a position of playing second string or higher, we put them on a scholarship.”

Stieglmeier said that there are 20 to 25 non-scholarship football players most seasons.

On the other end of the spectrum, the volleyball team is made up almost entirely of scholarship athletes.

Head coach Andrew Palileo said that they do recruit some athletes and ask them to walk on if there is not money available.

He does allow athletes to try out for the team as well, but he said the volleyball team usually does not have more than one or two walk-ons.

Two teams that recruit walk-ons, but also hold tryouts are the soccer and softball teams.

“I have recruited athletes and told them we didn’t have any more money,” head soccer coach Lang Wedemeyer said. “Sometimes players contact me and tell me they are going to attend SDSU, and they are interested in playing soccer. They can tryout at the beginning of the year and see if they can play at the Division II level.”

Head softball coach Shane Bouman also has a tryout to help fill the roster.

“We really encourage walk-ons to try out,” Bouman said. “You have to put the best people on the field to be successful.”

Just like many of the other sports, Bouman said that there are times when he recruits athletes and even if they know they will not earn scholarship money immediately.

“It is not always easy to get walk-ons, but we love to have them try out,” he said. “We are here to help them out, and put them in a position to be successful, whether they are on scholarship or not.”

One of Bouman’s athletes who walked on is Jill Hlavacek.

Hlavacek transferred from Iowa State in 2001. She said that she did not care that the coaches could not promise her a scholarship.

“It does take a lot of talent to work your way up,” Hlavacek said.

“It is deeper than that though. It takes a lot of hard work and desire, and a real love of the game. I go out and play like every game was my last one.”

Hlavacek eventually earned a scholarship after demonstrating this hard work and desire.

Not all walk-ons earn scholarships though.

Jerad Gass has been playing basketball at SDSU without a scholarship for four years.

“Being a walk-on has had its ups and downs as far as the time and demands of being on a college baskeball team,” Gass said.

“I seriously considered whether I wanted to do it another year, but I know I would have missed it.”

Gass said that spending time and forming relationships with his teammates is just as important to him as playing the sport that he loves.

“I’m just happy to be part of a good basketball program,” he said.

“My teammates respect me, and the coaches treat everyone fair. If that wasn’t the case, I probably wouldn’t be out anymore.”