Most athletes only dream of cutting down the nets or dousing their coach in Gatorade after a big win in front of thousands of fans. Those who get to do it are usually the highly recruited high school athletes, but at Northern Kentucky University that is not always the case.
The majority of NKU’s athletes are on athletic scholarship. In exchange for their athletic abilities, NKU pays for their tuition, housing and books. However, there are athletes that pay the same amount as the average student; these individuals are called walk-ons.
A walk-on is an athlete who tries out for an athletic team without having been recruited or offered a scholarship. A notable walk-on is Clay Matthews III, a former University of Southern California football star and three-time NFL Pro Bowler.
A preferred walk-on is an athlete who is guaranteed a roster spot without trying out but receives no financial assistance through an athletic scholarship.
Todd Asalon, head coach of NKU’s baseball team, said that walk-ons can earn athletic scholarships, but it is very difficult. They do, however, have an equal chance to play as scholarship players.
“They absolutely have an opportunity to play as a walk-on,” Asalon said. “Our golden rule is that the best players play.”
Asalon’s lone walk-on this season is pitcher Jordan Adkins. He walked on in August and has pitched in two innings of work this season, allowing no runs. Adkins said that he has been given the same opportunity to play as the players who were given scholarships.
“The coaches have all been fair to me and have given me a shot to show them what I can do, and I have run with it,” Adkins said. “I am not treated any different than scholarship players at all. I am on the NKU baseball team whether it is by scholarship or walk-on.”
The basketball team holds open tryouts for walk-ons to fill needed spots, and about 10 to 20 men are cut each year. There were six walk-ons on the roster last year, and each one contributed to the team’s success. Dave Bezold, the men’s head basketball coach, said they push the team every day in practice.
Bezold said that every member of his team is treated equally regardless if they are a walk-on or on scholarship. “We don’t call them walk-ons; every player is a member of the team,” Bezold said. “If they’re beating people out they’re playing. I don’t care if they’re a walk-on; I care what they do on the court.”
Walk-on players are well-respected by scholarship athletes and coaches. “To try out for a college team with all odds not in your favor,” Asalon said, “shows that hard work can and will pay off. It’s an underdog mentality and tells me that they aren’t afraid to fail.”
“I am living a dream right now, whether I am a walk-on or recruited player, because I am doing something I love,” Adkins said.