Football Recruiting

How Does a Preferred Walk-On End Up at Ohio State? Let the Players and OSU Explain It to You

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Signing day has come and gone for the class of 2017 and 21 high school recruits got full-ride scholarships to attend The Ohio State University to advance their football and academic careers. Not every player on the roster receives a scholarship, however, as only 85 can be used each year. That is where the walk-ons come in to play.

“Typically in the fall, around August I start cutting film of the one-star and two-star guys,” Ohio State’s Assistant Director of Player Personnel Eron Hodges told The-Ozone. “I ask questions like where are they from and why haven’t they been recruited big time. Then by December I will look at who has offers and who doesn’t. I typically stay in state for walk-ons because these kids have to come out of pocket (for their schooling). Sometimes you have a boy wonder who has the talent and who can afford to come out of pocket and come to Ohio State (from out of state).”

Hodges was unable to comment about any of the athletes discussed in this article because unlike the kids who signed letters of intent, walk-ons are not officially members of the team until they enroll in classes either in Summer of Fall.

He also explained that there are two different types of walk-ons, and that most people don’t realize this.

“People mix things up, a preferred walk-on doesn’t have to try out, where as a normal walk-on has to go through the tryout process (held twice a year),” he explained. “Once you are on the team, however, you are treated like a regular member of the team. The gear, the food, everything, you are just a Buckeye with the title of walk-on.”

Hodges is Mark Pantoni’s right-hand man, and while he is involved in all of Ohio State’s recruiting, he spends plenty of time helping the coaches in their quests for walk-on prospects. Given the history of walk-ons in college football, it’s hardly a wasted effort.

As an Ohio State fan, you probably remember some of Ohio State’s best walk-ons from the past and you may never have realized that they were actually walk-ons. Some of you are old enough to remember Terry Glenn. Did you know that Glenn was a walk-on at Ohio State in 1993 and three years later was a first-round draft pick by the Patriots? Other notable walk-ons at Ohio State have been Brian Stablein, Obie Stillwell, Craig Fada, Joe Burger, Andy Groom, and last year’s kicker Tyler Durbin.

Sometimes these kids will go the full four years without earning themselves a scholarship, yet some of them will earn their way onto scholarship with dedication and hard work.

What kind of recruiting process does a preferred walk-on go through? It is an interesting journey for sure, but let’s allow the players themselves to describe the process.

The four names you are about to become acquainted with are Jeremiah Knight, Zach Waddle, Alex Beck and Kory Curtis. Three of these four are from the state of Ohio. Knight is a talented running back out of Ashtabula. Waddle is a defensive end out of Grove City. Beck is a bruising linebacker out of Hudson, and Curtis is a gun-slinging quarterback out of Cape Coral, Florida. While none of the four had any FBS offers, they all certainly had a chance to go play collegiate football elsewhere.

When asked about the lure of playing for Ohio State, they all said that the program itself was enough to draw them in. They were all pretty surprised that Ohio State reached out to them, with Coach Hodges being the one who spoke with player. Jeremiah Knight was caught completely off guard.

“OSU never talked to me, and then one day their official account started following me. Then Coach Hodges got in touch with me and it all took off from there,” Knight told The-Ozone.

Knight had an amazing senior season, rushing the ball 203 times for 2,233 yards and 25 total touchdowns. Some close to Jeremiah believe that he was overlooked because he comes from such a small area, which kept him from getting the attention of other recruits despite playing in the same conference as Michigan State running back L.J. Scott, and former Michigan running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and De’Veon Smith.

Alex Beck said he was contacted last summer and was caught completely off guard.

“I was swimming and got a call with the offer. My friends and I thought it was a joke,” Beck recalled.

While each of these guys had the opportunity to go elsewhere to play their college football, they all acknowledged that Ohio State is second to none in not only their football program but the reach of the university itself.

“Ohio State is an amazing university, and it also has one of the largest alumni networks in the country. The aspect of living out my dream definitely drew me in. Then when I got to see the enthusiasm for hard work that the staff and players have, my decision was made,” Zach Waddle said.

The 85 scholarship players have everything paid for, from their schooling, to their meals, to their books, but the walk-ons are responsible for paying for almost everything themselves. While some of them have smaller scholarships from academics and other places, most of them will be footing the bill for their college experience. Each of the players realize that this opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and no matter what the cost it would be hard to pass it up. They all plan to work their hardest to eventually earn a scholarship at Ohio State, no matter what it takes.

“The cost of school is high but I have scholarships for multiple things. I have one for the Rotary Club of Cape Coral and I have some academic ones that will cut down the price.” Kory Curtis says. “I will do everything in my power to earn a scholarship from OSU.”

Family also plays a big role in these kids’ lives, especially when they grow up around Ohio State football.

“Most of my family lives around Columbus, so as you could imagine they were pretty excited. Of course when I decided to attend Ohio State they were even more excited,” Waddle said.

“It was close to home and an unbelievable football program, my family was very thrilled and excited for my opportunity,” Beck stated.

When asked about earning playing time at such a prestigious school, they all said that they would be putting 100% effort into becoming the next star walk-on at Ohio State.

“My goal is not to just see some playing time, my goal is to be great and help OSU win a National Championship,” Knight said. “I follow a motto ‘TNDO.’ Take no days off. It means I am training hard every day, never taking a day off and working when others are not.”

When asked about the potential of other schools reaching out to offer scholarships, each one of them said that they would not be looking at any other offers, that they all are committed to being Buckeyes.

“No sir,” said Curtis when asked if he would listen to other schools. “Schools that contacted me now would never make me change my mind now that I am set and ready to go for June.”

Some of the guys had a chance to meet Urban Meyer and talked about what he brings to the table when he meets with potential walk-ons.

“Coach Meyer came in and talked to the group at the visit. He doesn’t sugarcoat things, he tells you how it is. He likes it when guys get there and buy in and give it their all,” Waddle said.

“Meeting Coach Meyer was probably the coolest thing to me because I grew up a Florida fan, and I just thought he was funny, cool and down to earth. He makes you want to be coached by him,” Curtis said.

“Coach Meyer is a very busy man, and he puts all his time into football. Right after church on the Sunday of my visit he came straight to the football office to talk,” Knight said.

Eron Hodges is hoping that each one of these kids is able to come in and make some sort of impact.

“My goal is to help a coach find that walk-on who builds a name for himself by toughness and hard work, and then they end up as a special teams starter and turn into the Nate Ebners of the world,” he said.

One player that Hodges could talk about was Jordan Leas

ure, who was a freshman on the team last year and was a preferred walk-on out of Amanda-Clearcreek High School. Hodges hopes that all walk-ons are the caliber of athlete and person that Leasure is.

“He turned out to be a hell of a walk-on,” he said. “In the future I see him being like the Joe Burger and Craig Fadas. (He) got his black stripe off early in camp, dislocated his shoulder, rehabbed every day, got back faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. He (also) wrestles, so he will be wrestling for Ohio State as well. He is an animal. Those are the type of guys that we go after and that we attempt to go after. He is a prime example. Helluva kid, helluva player.”

While they might not get the fanfare that the four and five-star recruits get, walk-ons are a vital part of college football, especially at Ohio State. None of these four players are taking anything for granted and all of them are feeling really blessed to have the opportunity to play football at one of the premier institutions in the country, no matter what their role.

Judging by past successes of walk-ons around the country, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone from this group — if not all of them — make some sort of impact, be it on the playing field or practice field, while at Ohio State.