Being a walk-on player in a college football program presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities. While it may seem daunting, with determination, resilience, and a strategic approach, walk-ons can not only survive but also thrive in their college football journey. In this article, I’ll provide a comprehensive guide to help walk-on players navigate the competitive landscape of college football programs successfully. By following these strategies and embracing the walk-on mindset, you can make the most of your experience and carve out a significant role within the team.
Embrace the Underdog Mindset
This is A #1 in your survival. As a walk-on, it’s crucial to adopt an underdog mindset. Recognize that you will face additional hurdles compared to scholarship players and use this as motivation. Embrace the challenges, embrace the opportunity to prove yourself, and develop an unwavering belief in your abilities. Maintain a positive attitude, work ethic, and relentless drive, which will set you apart and gain the respect of coaches and teammates. Keep in mind that for you this will be about endurance. Most of the scholarship players are going to be in a sprint to get on the field, make plays and try to move on to the next level. You will start off with a more long term mindset. You will encounter hurdle after hurdle but this will build up your mental toughness. This will only serve you better in the long run.
Be a Student of the Game
To survive as a walk-on, immerse yourself in the sport both on and off the field. Study game film, learn the playbook inside out, and understand the strategies and nuances of your position. Take advantage of any resources provided by the coaching staff, such as film sessions or extra study sessions. Being knowledgeable about the game will give you a competitive edge and demonstrate your commitment to improvement. I totally understand that you must also juggle an academic workload that will be heavier than that of the scholarship players. However, time management is a major key to overall college success. You will be learning that lesson in a most rigid way. Cut out the time to educate yourself on the game. Smart players are the ones that build up trust over time with coaches. Once you establish that, you are setting yourself up for bigger things.
Seek Mentorship and Build Relationships
Establishing relationships with teammates, coaches, and support staff is crucial for survival as a walk-on. Seek mentorship from experienced players who can guide you through the program and provide valuable advice. Cultivate positive relationships with coaches by displaying a strong work ethic, demonstrating coachability, and seeking feedback. Additionally, connect with academic advisors, strength and conditioning coaches, and other staff members who can offer support and guidance throughout your college football journey. It’s about making connections just like the rest of college and you never know how a connection made can serve you later. Don’t do the hoodie, don’t bother me thing in the building. Be cheerful and engaging with everyone in the athletic facility. It pays off.
Maximize Your Opportunities
As a walk-on, make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. Whether it’s during practice, scrimmages, or special teams, showcase your skills, work ethic, and versatility. Approach each opportunity with a high level of intensity and demonstrate your willingness to contribute in any capacity. Additionally, take advantage of offseason training programs, camps, and showcases to improve your skills and gain exposure to coaches from other programs. If you want a scholarship, act like a scholarship player when it comes to attendance. Don’t take the opportunity to miss activities because it’s not required of you as walk-on. Show your face and the right people will eventually take notice. Furthermore, opportunities can be few and far in-between as a walk-on especially in the beginning. Always be ready for them when they come. Coming through in the clutch when there are injuries, suspensions, etc. and there’s a good chance you get yourself a scholarship.
Excel in Academics
Academic success is crucial for walk-on players. Maintain a strong focus on your studies and prioritize your responsibilities as a student-athlete. Develop effective time management skills to balance your football commitments with academic requirements. Seek support from academic advisors and utilize available resources to excel in your coursework. Strong academic performance not only ensures your eligibility but also enhances your overall value to the team and demonstrates your commitment to personal growth. Let’s face it, some walk-ons help boost the team’s overall GPA. If you aren’t yet ready to contribute on the field, at least server a purpose by running the GPA numbers up.
Stay Physically and Mentally Prepared
To survive the demands of a college football program, you must prioritize physical and mental preparation. Maintain a consistent workout regimen to stay in peak physical condition and improve your performance. Work closely with strength and conditioning coaches to enhance your strength, speed, and agility. In addition, practice mental resilience techniques such as visualization, mindfulness, and goal setting to develop mental toughness and stay focused amidst challenges and competition. Nothing builds and maintains confidence like preparation. When it comes to football, being physically prepared is a huge element. It goes without saying that football is a physical sport. Making sure you are on point in the weight room will give you a strong mindset. It will also connect you with the strength and conditioning coach. In most programs, that coach holds a lot of weight in meetings. If you create an ally in him, there’s no telling what he may be will to do to help you.
Surviving as a walk-on in a college football program requires dedication, perseverance, and a strategic approach. Embrace the underdog mindset, immerse yourself in the game, seek mentorship, maximize opportunities, excel academically, and stay physically and mentally prepared. Remember that your journey as a walk-on can be greatly rewarding, and with hard work and the right amount of preparation you can have an amazing experience. You can also establish strong connections that serve you well for years beyond the football field.
Chad Wilson is a college football recruiting expert and creator of the GridironStudsApp which allows high school football players to gain exposure to college football coaches and fans. Wilson is a former college football player for the University of Miami (92-94) and Long Beach St. (’90-’91) and played briefly for the Seattle Seahawks (’95). He is also a former youth and high school football coach for over 15 years most recently for 5-A State of Florida Champs American Heritage. He runs All Eyes DB Camp a defensive back training company located in South Florida IG: @alleyesdbcamp. Wilson’s oldest son Quincy plays in the NFL for the New York Giants and his younger son plays cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals.