The Walk-Ons

During the college football season every fall, you’ll often see videos of walk-ons receiving a full scholarship from their coach as the team mobs them in celebration.

This past weekend one of those incredible moments unfolded as Nevada’s freshman walk-on kicker hit a 56 yard field goal to beat Purdue in a huge upset. After the game, the coach not only gave the kicker the game ball, but also announced that he was now on scholarship. This is a moment straight out of a movie.

Moments like this are heartwarming, but these scholarship videos only happen in sports like basketball of football. With 12.6 scholarships for 40 or so players on a Division 1 men’s lacrosse team and 12 for women, college lacrosse walk-ons risk everything for a chance to make a team for much different reasons.

For lacrosse walk-ons there are no full scholarships to compete for. There is only the opportunity to be a member of the team and a slim chance of playing.

Why do players have to walk-on to a team? It could be because they chose their school for a certain major, but still want to play lacrosse, they were barely recruited, the coach couldn’t offer them a scholarship, but will give them a chance to make the team, or they want to risk everything and try out for a D1 or high level D2 or D3 lacrosse team because it’s their dream.

Walk-on tryouts are happening right now and in the next few weeks of fall ball around the country.

Every team has a different process for open tryouts or bringing on walk-ons. I’ve heard stories of dozens of players coming out for grueling tryouts at Salisbury, while other schools might only bring on one player for an entire fall to decide if they are good enough to remain with the team for the spring. You won’t hear about walk-ons very often at the Division 1 level, but every team in the country likely has at least one or two players on their roster who started their career as one.

With Top 100 recruits or high school all-americans usually being the center of attention of the freshmen class on most D1 teams, walk-ons have the odds against them to make the team and especially to get playing time. However, there are players that have beat the odds like Sergio Salcido at Syracuse and Brendan Fowler at Duke. Salcido went from walk-on to a First Team All-American and now a star on the Redwoods in the PLL. Fowler walked on at Duke where he contributed right away and was the MVP of the National Championship in 2013. Fowler also now plays in the PLL for the Archers.

Walk-ons have the same chance as every other player to move up the depth chart, but the walk-on journey is no easy path. I know from experience.

I came to Canisius with no guarantee of making the team. All I had was a three day tryout to prove I belonged. Three days of scrimmages against Division 1 lacrosse players to decide my future. It was the most nervous I have ever felt in my life.

On my first shift I dropped a pass. I lost the first faceoff I took and then my first shot went right into the goalie’s stick.

I came off the field, went behind the bleachers, and threw up into a garbage can.

I remember thinking “Was this a mistake?”

At any D1 or major lacrosse school in other divisions, players have to have good enough stick skills to get through drills, be athletic enough to hang with the other players, and work hard enough to survive the grueling practices and conditioning in the fall and spring. D1 lacrosse is a full-time job and it isn’t for everybody.

Many walk-ons could spend their whole career being used on scout team or getting dodged on over and over similar to the most famous walk-on of all: Rudy. Is it worth it to suffer through years of practices without playing time just to say that you’re on the team, get the gear, and stand on the sideline during games?

I believe that it is and if you want it bad enough you can earn playing time. I ended up making the team at Canisius and I even started 2 games my junior year as well as played in many others before injuries got the best of me. College is a daunting experience, but having 40 new friends from the team right away my freshmen year made the transition so much easier. What walk-ons get from being on the team is more important than how much they play. The experiences, the highs and lows of the seasons, lessons learned, and the life long friends gained on a college sports team are worth the risk.

Young men and women all over the country will try and walk-on to a college lacrosse team these next few weeks. It won’t be easy.

All I know is that if they are willing to bet on themselves and their skills to take that leap of faith, they won’t regret it. It was the best decision of my life.

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