Spring Football 2001: the Walk-ons
by HokieLifer, 4/2/01

Note: message board poster "VT MNC Hopeful" also contributed to this story.

One of the major stories during last seasonís spring practice was the emergence of former walk-on Billy Hardee.

Beginning with the first 2000 spring scrimmage, Hokie fans began to hear reports that Hardee was actually pressuring Willie Pile, an excellent football player in his own right, at the free safety position. Hardeeís standout spring play reached its apex in last yearís Spring Game, a game in which he intercepted a pass, returning it seven yards for the White team, while providing blanket-like coverage on other plays. Hardee also contributed four tackles, and even sacked the quarterback. Itís safe to say that by the end of the 2000 Spring Game, Hardee had secured a scholarship with the Hokies.

As Billy Hardee demonstrated last year, spring practice is an opportunity for a very few walk-ons each year to impress the VT coaching staff with their talents and to earn a position on the team. But itís also a time that will cause a majority of the walk-ons to get lost in the hugely competitive atmosphere of returning scholarship players, new incoming scholarship recruits, and the other walk-ons that have been trying to earn a spot for one or more years.

The reason that so few walk-ons are successful each year is almost completely mathematical in nature. Here are the key numbers:

  1. The NCAA has mandated that each D1-A college football program has a limit of 85 players that may be on scholarship at any one time.
  2. 19 Tech players have used up their eligibility, or, in one case, elected to go to the NFL early. So, 85 scholarship players minus 19 leaving the program = 66 remaining scholarship players.
  3. Approximately 30 non-scholarship walk-ons are currently said to be competing for positions on the VT football team this spring. 66 scholarship players + 30 walk-ons = approximately 96 players competing for positions this spring.
  4. Although an unlimited number of total players may participate in spring practice, the NCAA limits college rosters to a total of 105 players by the time fall practice begins. The 22 scholarship recruits of the Class of 2001 are scheduled to arrive in the fall, along with the 66 other scholarship players that participated in spring practice. 22 + 66 = 88, which is 3 scholarships over the limit mandated by the NCAA.
  5. To meet the NCAA limit of 85 scholarship players, the coaching staff will have to decide which of the incoming Class of 2001 will be asked to at least delay their entry until January 2002. 85 scholarship players + 20 walk-ons = 105, which means that at least 10 of the 30 spring practice walk-ons will be released prior to the start of fall practice.
  6. Once the season begins, the roster limit can be increased to 110. This allows the coaching staff to completely evaluate the performance of the total pool of walk-ons for the 2001 season. 85 scholarship players + 25 total walk-ons kept for the season = 110 total players in the VT football program.
  7. Additionally, up to 9 recruited walk-ons are scheduled to arrive at the start of fall practice, which will further reduce the number of walk-ons currently present at the start of spring practice. 85 scholarship players + 9 recruited walk-ons + 16 remaining walk-ons from spring = 105.

So, barring off-season attrition, anywhere from 16-20 of the nearly 30 walk-ons will join the team this fall.

Each year players from high schools and a very small number of junior colleges are carefully evaluated, recruited, and offered scholarships to address specific needs of the VT football program. They are the best available players that the coaches believe have the best chance of winning a starting job, or, at the very least, of earning some position that will help the team. The mission of each of the walk-ons at Virginia Tech is to provide competition and challenge for those players that are already on the team, and for those that have been newly recruited.

As most of us know by now, the walk-on program is a major component of the Virginia Tech football program. Only Nebraska has a walk-on program that can boast of a longer and more productive history. Walk-ons at VT are given exactly the same opportunity, and are treated in exactly the same way, as scholarship players. Two former Hokie walk-ons, John Engelberger and John Burke, now play in the NFL.

As noted above, the odds of staying with the team are pretty small, but it can be done. Last year alone the Hokies started six players who have walked-on to the team over the past several years:

Player/Position

Class

Walk-on Year

Scholarship Year

FB Jarrett Ferguson

Redshirt-Sr.

1997

1998

TE Browning Wynn

Redshirt-Sr.

1997

1999

C Steve DeMasi

Redshirt-Sr.

1997

2000

K Carter Warley

Redshirt-So.

1999

2000

CB Billy Hardee

Redshirt-Jr.

1999

2000

P Bobby Peaslee

Redshirt-So.

1999

still a walk-on

The personal goal for each walk-on covers a very broad spectrum. Some players are striving to play in the NFL, some are trying to earn a scholarship, but most are just looking to survive to play another day for the Hokies.

Walk-on players can be categorized into four groups: (1) those who have earned a scholarship, (2) those who are trying to earn one, (3) those who are looking to solidify their role with the team, and (4) those just trying to survive long enough to make the team.

Scholarship Players

At last count, six former walk-ons currently have VT football scholarships: Ferguson, Wynn, DeMasi, Hardee, Warley, and Doug Easlick (fullback, R-So).

Ferguson, Wynn, and DeMasi, whose starting jobs are pretty well assured, will be refining and improving their game, and they will provide experience and leadership to the post-Vick Hokie offense.

Hardee returns as the backup free safety after starting the last few games at Boundary Cornerback (BCB). He provides the coaches with a proven player that can play anywhere in the defensive backfield. Look for him to be on the field as much as the starters.

This spring provides some unique challenges for Carter Warley, who has locked up the place-kicking job with an excellent performance during the 2000 season, but is suffering from a chronic back injury. This spring he must try to stay mentally strong while resting his ailing back.

This is Doug Easlickís first spring on a football scholarship. Easlick initially came to Tech on a wrestling scholarship, but according to NCAA regulations, his scholarship counted toward the football totals when he played in a game last season. He will be competing with walk-on Wayne Briggs to provide depth behind Jarrett Ferguson at fullback.

In Line For Scholarships

This spring there are several walk-on players who are an integral part of the team and are also vying for scholarship openings. However, with last yearís stellar recruiting class, the coaches will be hard-pressed to find room for more than one or two additional scholarships. After careful analysis, the following players are most probably the best bets to be competing for the one or two slots that may be available

  • Bobby Peaslee (R-So, punter)
  • Brandon Manning (R-Fr, Whip)
  • Wayne Briggs (R-Sr, fullback)
  • Ken Keister (R-Jr., long snapper)
  • Ronald Moody (R-So., split end)
  • Chris Krebs (R-Sr., rover).

In a perfect world, Peaslee, who was the starting punter last year, would already be on scholarship. To be first in line, though, heíll have to fend off a challenge from scholarship punter Vinnie Burns. Itís also possible that Peaslee and Burns share punting duties, with one becoming a "pooch" punt specialist. Keister is in line because of his long snapper duties. Both Cliff Anders and Shane Beamer were awarded scholarships for their long-snapping roles, and Coach Beamer may award one to Keister, as well.

Briggs, Moody, and Krebs are all vying for playing time and the scholarship that goes with it. Hereís hoping Krebs, a tireless special teams worker and three-time letterman, gets his due.

The player to watch here is Manning, who impressed coaches with his performance on the scout team and in the weight room enough to have already earned jersey #30 (vacated by Tee Butler, a former walk-on player who earned a scholarship and has played out his eligibility). Coaches expect Manning to challenge T. J. Jackson (r-Jr.) and Deon Provitt (r-So.) for playing time at whip linebacker.

Role Players

Many walk-on players have earned roles with the Hokies but are now striving to expand their roles, get noticed more often, and fend off challenges from new walk-ons and incoming recruits. Most of these players will fill positions on Coach Beamerís much-vaunted special team units. The following players must work their way into playing time to keep from being cut from the squad:

  • Alex Markogiannakis (R-Jr., mike linebacker)
  • Jon Molllerup (R-Jr., place kicker)
  • Dirk Taylor (Jr., whip)
  • Jeff Thompson (R-So., stud end)
  • Mark Costen (R-So., defensive tackle)
  • Eric Beale (R-So., whip)
  • Matt Findley (R-So., center)
  • Jevon Jenkins (So., flanker)
  • Chris Shreve (So., Split end)
  • Jeff Werner (So., offensive guard).

Most of the above-mentioned players have shown they can work on the field and in the weight room, now they must demonstrate that they can fill a role on the VT squad.

At this point in time, it is thought that Markogiannakis, Costen and Findley will continue their development and will be called upon to provide depth, should injuries arise. Taylor and Beale will be competing with Krebs to provide depth at rover. Jenkins and Werner have turned heads in winter testing and look to establish a role with the team. Jenkins turned in the fastest 60-meter-dash time this year for the Hokies at 6.98 seconds, and ran a 4.4 second forty during the pre-spring testing for the football team.

The player to watch from this group is Chris Shreve, a receiver with good speed who has made considerable progress in Mike Gentryís strength and conditioning program. The coaches will look for an opportunity to establish a role for him on special teams.

Looking for Roles

The remainder of the walk-on players are looking to find a niche, turn a head and, most importantly keep themselves on the roster. Many of these players made the team through a try-out. Only a couple will be on the fall roster, some may return next spring.

The competition for kicker slots will be fierce with Tim Griggs (R-Fr), Lance Goff (R-Fr), Kyle Stewart (R-Fr), Andy Wilfong(R-Fr), Jeff Nosenzo (R-Fr), and Matt Felber (R-Sr.) all attempting to win a position on the kicker depth chart that already includes Warley, Peaslee, Burns, and Mollerup.

The other players vying for a place on the fall roster are:

  • Stephen Hale (R-Fr, ,defensive tackle)
  • Scott Hughes (R-Fr, flanker)
  • Joe Coley (R-Fr, fullback)
  • Adam Wilson (R-So, long snapper)
  • Chisom Iwu (So, defensive end)
  • Tuwond Bernard (R-Fr. cornerback)
  • Brendan Sullivan (R-Fr, offensive line)
  • Timmy Robinson (R-Fr, linebacker)

The sentimental favorite to win a spot on the 2001 roster is Matt Felber, a "Rudy"-like senior who enters his fourth spring practice but has yet to appear on any fall dress roster. In past seasons Felber has served as an insurance policy at both punter and placekicker, and this year he challenges Mollerup and the freshmen for a place on the fall placekicking depth chart.

While the personal goals may differ for each Virginia Tech walk-on, there are a couple of major factors that bind them together as one. They are all Hokies, and they are all competing for positions on the roster of one of the premier D1-A college programs in the country. Good luck, guys!

TSL message board poster HokieLifer runs an excellent page on VT walk-on football players called, quite appropriately, HokieLifer's VT Walk-on Page.

          

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