Michelle Berthiaume

Equinox Staff


One of the hardest things to do in college sports is walking on to an athletic team.

Not only do you face a disadvantage of trying out for a team without being recruited, but you also don’t have the advantages of coming into college as an athlete and having to adjust.

“As a walk-on, you really need to open your eyes very quickly. We, as coaches, have a job to do to put this team together. It’s put up or shut up,” KSC’s men’s baseball coach Ken Howe said.

Walk-on players are at an automatic disadvantage. They have one chance to open a coach’s eyes and if they don’t, they don’t make the team. If an athlete is walking on to a sports team, especially Howe’s team, he or she  better have something to show.

“One of my best players on my most successful teams was a walk-on. Matt Wheeler helped us make it to the Elite Eight in 2004. Basically, walk-ons have to provide something we don’t already have,” men’s basketball coach, Robert Colbert said. “They are given every opportunity to be part of the game and we are always interested.”

Colbert said it is tough for a player to walk-on initially.

“Recruited players have been on and off campus since their senior year in high school for visits and such. Initially, a walk-on player does get looked at differently,” Colbert said.

For walk-on athletes, it is especially difficult to join a fall sports team.

“The perception of walk-ons is they haven’t been through the hell of preseason. The rest of the team is here for nine days before walk-ons try out. They definitely see some resentment from the team,” volleyball coach Bob Weiner said.

Weiner has been privileged to have a successful walk-on player on his team, Emma Cheal. Cheal is a sophomore from Redding, Conn.. Last year, Cheal came to KSC not intending to play any sports for the school.

“She told me she had planned to transfer after first semester because she didn’t plan to like KSC. But she ended up loving it here and she came to me a week after try outs and said she wanted to play,” Weiner said.

Cheal came to a private tryout and put her best effort forward. Weiner and the rest of the team were surprised with how well she played. So, Weiner threw her on the practice squad. She still had a lot to prove, but at least she was part of the team.

Later in the season, the volleyball team lost a player so Cheal was given a uniform. Ever since then, she’s been an impact player for the Lady Owls.

“She came to practice every day and worked hard. And Emma is so versatile because she plays more than one position. She earned her spot,” Weiner said.

“It was nerve-wracking. The idea that the team was already playing together was scary. But I came to a game and I saw them play and I wanted so bad to be a part of it. It was really thrilling,” Cheal said. “I had to work as hard as I could and prove to the team and coach that I was willing to do whatever it took and I did.”

Although Cheal joined the team late, she had an instant impact, something that most coaches can only hope for. “It is very difficult for walk-ons but I will never say never,” Coach Weiner said.

Coaches expect the same thing from walk-ons as they do from heavily-recruited athletes.

“They need to come in and prove to me and the team that they want it,” Howe said. “There is no difference between an all-American coming in and a player that has never played before. Everyone gets an equal opportunity and it doesn’t matter who you are. You just need to show us what you can do.”

Walk-ons for the baseball team come in at an even playing field with the rest of the players at try-outs.

“Generally, we have about 70 kids try out and it depends on the year how many spots we have open. It’s difficult for a walk-on to open our eyes but we will have a couple every year that we are willing to take a shot on,” Howe said.

Walk-on athletes will play the fall season with the baseball team, which is usually about four weeks and if they show that they have what it takes, they make the team.

Walk-ons may have a difficult road in front of them in order to make a team, but every coach is willing to take a look at a player. Although it is a rare occasion to see a walk-on player have an impact on a team, “it is always a pleasant surprise,” Howe said.


Michelle Berthiaume can be contacted at mberthiaume@ksc.mailcruiser.com


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