Mason athletes decline scholarship offers, opt to walk on to major Division I colleges to compete for a spot

Bryan Hudnell | Staff Writer

Walk-ons are the dreamers of college athletics.

A walk-on is a roster player who’s not on scholarship. According to the NCAA, 46 percent of Division I athletes are walk-ons. Some famous walk-ons find success like Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the harsh reality is that most walk-ons will never see the field and often do not finish their four years of eligibility at the same school.

Despite the odds, Head Varsity Football Coach Brian Castner believes his program has prepared athletes for life as a prefered walk-on at the next level.

“We’ve had a lot of players here that have went on and be that prefered walk-on and get scholarships,” Castner said. “Andrew Hauser just graduated from the University of Akron, played two years under scholarship, but he had to go through that grind for two years. JD Sprague went to Ohio University and was there as a prefered walk on and got a scholarship. Andrew Lucke was the same way at Bowling Green, so they all went through that and I think that you go through that situation with a chip on your shoulder and if you train the right way, you’ll end up getting what you deserve.”

Senior defensive linemen Zaid Hamdan committed to Ohio State as a prefered walk on and and graduated early to participate in their spring offseason programs. With offers from several Mid American Conference schools on the table, Hamdan embraced the chance to prove that his smaller frame could translate to the collegiate game at an elite program.

“The thing that motivated me is my size,” Hamdan said. “A lot of power 5 schools told me I was more than capable of playing, but they didn’t wanna risk a scholarship because of my height. I thought if the only thing holding me back was 2 inches so why not prove to the world, like countless others, that size doesn’t matter.”

Playing at one of the top football programs in the country, Hamdan emphasized the level of competition and the amount of work necessary to make an impact at Ohio State.

“It’s a very very big jump and I don’t think I can reiterate that enough,” Hamdan said. “There’s little room for error or to mess around because everyone’s fighting for playing time and a chance to go pro, so it’s more serious because I’m surrounded by people who all have the same goal in mind and it creates an intense competitive atmosphere.”

Senior quarterback Will Adams committed to the University of Cincinnati February 1 as a prefered walk-on. Adams turned down scholarship offers from Butler University and the University of Dayton to fulfil a childhood goal of playing football as a Bearcat.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing at UC and grew up watching them,” Adams said. “If i wasn’t going to play football in college, I would’ve gone to UC anyways so that made it even better. I love to compete for things and UC has given me a great opportunity to compete”

Adams will be joining former teammates class of 2017 running back Michael Kopaygorodsky and 2016 linebacker Ty Sponseller in wearing the red and black next fall.

“I love both of those guys and they have supported me throughout this process,” Adams said. “I can’t wait to become teammates with them again.”

Even though prefered walk-ons pass on early playing time and guaranteed money, Castner has prepared his athletes for the tough road ahead.

“If they go to that Division II or III school, maybe they have a decent career but in the back of their minds they might say man I didn’t live my dream,” Castner said. “I tried to get them ready to know that hey, it’s two years. It’s going to be a grind for two years. If you get a scholarship before that, great, but it probably won’t happen before that two year mark.”

After evaluating his options, Adams elected to pursue a dream and is willing to earn the money after he steps on campus.

“I’m not too worried about the whole money thing because I know I can’t control that,” Adams said. “I believe the opportunity to play at UC was too good to pass up and I like how nothing is give to me, I have to earn it.”

With a long road ahead for his players, Castner is thrilled that his players get the chance live out their aspirations and play football at the Division I level.

“I’m always excited for those kids, they get to go out live their dream,” Castner said. “I think it’s a great testament to how they want to live and at the end of it all, they’ll have no regrets. When they look back in eight years or so, they can say they gave it their all.”