For every starting lineup of a college football team, there is a crew of guys who may never get to take a snap. These walk-ons balance school and regimented practices without being recognized or publicly appreciated in the way scholarship players are.
After years of taking the heavy hits and staying in the lowlight, football walk-ons across the U.S. are uniting to have their story heard. University “Walk-On U” Twitter pages have swept the nation, providing walk-ons with the opportunities to poke fun at themselves while also getting the recognition they deserve.
Junior Zach Goins, who works for the University Desk of The Daily Tar Heel, is a walk-on football player at UNC who created UNC’s version of “Walk-On U” in fall of 2016. As of now, the page has a loyal fan base of 1,296 followers with strong connections to comparable walk-on Twitter pages from other schools.
“At every school, the story is the same,” Goins said. “They all go through this. We actually have a GroupMe with close to 100 guys, and it’s like two or three guys from each school. We’re all about networking and reaching out to our fellow walk-ons.”
Goins said he jokes that walk-ons have a motto that they are going pro in something other than sports. But being a walk-on doesn’t necessarily lead to a life of mediocrity. There’s always the chance of catching a break on the field and making it big. Take Mack Hollins, for example. In the span of five years, Mack Hollins went from a walk-on player on the UNC football team to a Super Bowl champion.
The glorious glow-up of Mack Hollins has been prime material for Goins and the walk-ons to use on the Twitter page. Ultimately, it is an opportunity to explain how walk-ons are an integral part of any football program, especially at UNC.
“UNC has a reputation for being a team that takes walk-on players that are not on scholarship and turning them into players that either earn scholarships or just make significant impacts for the team,” Goins said.
Walk-ons may take one of two traditional paths to join the UNC football team. Preferred walk-ons are not offered scholarships but are recruited by the coaching staff. They also have the opportunity to train with the team during the summer prior to football season. Students can also try-out for the team in August, but fewer walk-ons are added this way.
Once walk-ons join the team, they are welcomed to the brotherhood of UNC football. Jack Dinges, a first-year walk-on, appreciates how players can connect with each other regardless of their status on the team.
“If you walked into the locker room, it’s not like the scholarship guys are separate from the walk-ons or anything like that,” Dinges said. “We’re all really close and tight-knit. So I think that’s one of the great things about our program.”
As a senior, walk-on Chris Ripberger has completed his college football career. Looking back on his experience, he said the struggle was all worth it.
“Coming in as a walk-on, it’s really intimidating,” Ripberger said. “It’s one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. It’s really hard to stay focused and stay motivated when things aren’t necessarily going your way. But the effort that I’ve put in over the three years makes the playing time that I was able to get senior year that much more important and special.”
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