As college football gears up for another season, practices have started on campuses all across the country. A popular new tradition among college coaches is finding unique and creative ways to surprise walk-on players with the life-changing news that they’ve received a scholarship. Walk-ons are members of the team who pay their own way – like a typical college student – and usually serve as one of the last guys on the depth chart. Though they typically aren’t headliners, it’s obvious in the clips below how popular and important walk-ons can be. It doesn't matter how big a football fan you are – if you need a little joy in your life today, this video is well worth your time.


As you can see, teammates and coaches alike love seeing a walk-on get surprised with a scholarship. It’s so rewarding mainly because as members of the team, walk-ons are among the most deserving. The scholarship players are typically superior to walk-ons in size, strength, and athletic skill. Scholarship players usually have a higher recruiting profile, a more impressive national ranking, and a better opportunity to play the day they set foot on campus. But for all the things they have, scholarship players can sometimes be deficient in important areas where walk-ons thrive. That's why, as a champion sports parent, I want to encourage you today to help your child develop a walk-on mentality.

Walk-ons usually aren’t the biggest, strongest, or most athletic. If they were, it’s likely they’d have earned a scholarship from the get-go. But often, walk-ons stand out and separate themselves for different reasons. When rewarding a walk-on with a scholarship, coaches regularly reference the hard work, relentless determination, and singular effort these players have shown. There’s usually a unique level of toughness to a walk-on – many of them have had to overcome struggles and challenges and, in doing so, they've developed an uncommon level of guts and grit. And walk-ons are typically driven to do the hard work it takes to be their best not by some burden or obligation to the financial aid check they’ve been written, but rather by an authentic passion for the game they love.

If you’ve seen the movie Rudy, about the iconic Notre Dame walk-on Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, you may remember the frustrated Fighting Irish coach yelling at one of his scholarship players, “If you had a tenth the heart of Ruettiger, you’d have made All American by now!” Rudy didn’t possess a lot of the physical qualities of his highly-recruited scholarship teammates, but he sure made his mark on Notre Dame football history. Despite his limitations, it was impossible for anyone to question the size of his heart.

Regardless of your child's physical ability, you should be helping him learn to think and play like a walk-on. You do this by intentionally cultivating his effort, his toughness, and his heart for the game. If he's strong in those areas, he’s much more likely to maximize whatever God-given potential he’s got. Even if he’s not as physically gifted as those around him, you might be surprised how much success is out there for the relentlessly determined, gutty, gritty competitor with the huge heart. This guy often ends up playing longer – and better – not only than his physical ability should allow, but longer and better than many of those more gifted athletes around him.

If your child is lucky enough to be one of those gifted athletes – if he has elite level size, strength, and skill, then your responsibility to developing his walk-on mentality is no less important. He may have serious potential, but he’ll never come close to becoming his best if you haven’t deliberately developed in him that effort, that toughness, and that heart for playing the game he loves. If you are intentional about building and cultivating those qualities, then you've found the formula for making him really special: a superstar athlete with a walk-on mentality.

On the other hand, if you aren’t intentional about building and cultivating those qualities, you might end up disappointed someday. It’d be tough for you to have to hear a coach barking at your child, “If you had a tenth the heart of that walk-on, you’d have made All-American by now!” At that point, you’d both wish he was stronger in those important areas where walk-ons have a tendency to thrive.

If you’re serious about helping your young athlete become a champion, I hope you’ll see clearly today that developing his effort, his toughness, and his heart will be required to make it happen. As his parent, you are the one responsible for cultivating your child's growth in these important areas. I can’t promise you – even if you do that important work – that one day he’ll be rewarded with a full athletic scholarship; but I can promise that you won’t regret doing what it takes to help him become his very best. And who knows? There might be some surprises waiting out there for your determined, gritty, passionate, competitor of a kid. That’s your child with a walk-on mentality. That’s your child, the champion. 


Subscribe to The LENS Newsletter here.