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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The life of a college football walk-on

By Javier Becerra

Jaime Carvajal never played in a game during his time as a walk-on at Texas, but the Taft native still earned a ring when the Longhorns won the 2005 national championship.

Although he didn't get recruited while in high school, Carroll's Will Bonilla ended up with a scholarship two years after walking on at SMU.

Ray's Clint Gresham suffered for a year at Oklahoma and through a second shoulder surgery before transferring to TCU and being awarded a scholarship.

The stories are different, but all the same. They tell of dedication, determination and discipline, the three things that helped Carvajal survive four seasons as a member of a Division I-A football program.

"I never doubted myself," said Carvajal, a running back on the scout offense. "I wanted it to happen bad and wasn't going to take no for an answer. Growing up, I loved football. It was a lifelong goal of mine to be a part of a great program like that. It was like a dream come true. For four years I was living my dream. There's no way to explain it. Nobody can ever take that away from me."

There aren't many who can say that -- especially in South Texas.

According to the NCAA, only 5.7 percent (one in 17) of all high school seniors will go on to play football at member institutions. Thirteen local players signed to national letters of intent on National Signing Day last week, but not all do.

That didn't happen for Bonilla, Carvajal, Gresham or Flour Bluff's Drew Marcantonio, a non-scholarship player on the scout team at Texas. Wanting to keep playing, the four had only one option.

Walk on.

"I didn't get recruited much my senior year, but I always thought I had the ability to play," said Bonilla, the SMU Defensive MVP for 2007. "My family and friends backed me up, so I decided to give it a shot. I figured the best way was to go up there the summer before my freshman year and start working out."

Bonilla actually began the process by sending in a highlight tape. The Mustangs didn't have a scholarship for him, but he showed enough on the video to get an invitation to two-a-day workouts as a preferred walk-on.

Despite being there only a couple of months before the 2004 season, Bonilla made it to the scout defense as a linebacker. He was seventh on the depth chart, but not for long.

Bonilla entered the spring as a starter on special teams and moved up to third on the depth chart. He played in all 11 games that year, mostly on special teams, and finished the season with 12 tackles.

After showing more improvement the following spring, Bonilla got his scholarship. He wasn't a starter, but as part of the rotation at linebacker, Bonilla was in on about a third of the snaps.

Bonilla was still fourth on the depth chart after the spring. Then Bonilla beat out one of the three returning starters during two-a-days.

In his first season as the starter, Bonilla tied for the team lead with 82 tackles, including 12 against Arkansas State. He also had two interceptions and five tackles for a loss.

Bonilla wasn't sure if he would ever get a chance. Once he did, he made the most if it.

"I don't think I ever doubted myself," Bonilla said. "I didn't know if the coaches would give me an opportunity. It was possible that I'd never get one. When I finally did I took off and never looked back."

Just like Gresham did after leaving Oklahoma.

Gresham didn't get recruited until October of his senior year. The Sooners called, but not to offer a scholarship.

TCU wanted to give Gresham a full ride, but he had already attended his first game in Norman. His mind was made up.

All that followed were empty promises.

"It was just one excuse after another," said Gresham, a deep snapper. "I wasn't happy there. It didn't feel like I mattered. I didn't feel like the coaches respected me. They really misrepresented themselves. They said they wanted to see me through the spring. Well, spring came around and I did great, but nothing. Then they said they wanted to see me through the summer. After the summer came and went, they said they wanted to see me through the season. By then I had enough of it."

Luckily, TCU was still interested.

As a transfer, Gresham was required to sit out the 2006 season. He used the time to recover from a second surgery on his left shoulder, which he first had operated for a torn labrum during his senior year at King.

Finally healed, Gresham proved his worth during last season and was offered a scholarship in January. Although Gresham basically had to start all over again, he didn't mind.

"They really made me feel welcome at TCU," Gresham said. "I had complete faith that they were going to give me a scholarship. It just felt right. All the hard work really paid off."


College: SMU (2004-present)

High School: Carroll

Noteworthy: A preferred walk-on, Bonilla eventually earned a scholarship and was named the teams Defensive MVP after tying for the team lead in tackles last season.


College: Texas (2004-07)

High School: Taft

Noteworthy: Although he never played in a game at Texas, Carvajal was a part of the program four years and won a national championship ring as a member of the 2005 team.


College:Oklahoma (2005), TCU (2006-present)

High School: Ray

Noteworthy: Despite a negative experience as a walk-on at Oklahoma, Gresham didnt give up and went on to receive a scholarship at TCU.

Tips from the walk-ons


It helps to have a highlight tape for coaches to see.

Get out and get some exposure, Rays Clint Gresham said. One day my dad and I got a video camera and went up to Ray. He taped about 20 snaps and sent them out to everybody.

It definitely helped Carrolls Will Bonilla.

Once they saw my tape they called and said they would like for me to walk on, Bonilla said.


Bonilla said its OK to run up the bill as long as you get your name out there.

We stayed in contact with the recruiters all the time, he said. We were constantly calling.


If youre not really that serious about it, dont bother.

You cant just go out there and do what they tell you, Tafts Jaime Carvajal said. You have to put time and effort into your workouts. You have to show them you are ready. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.

Javier Becerra

Contact Javier Becerra at 886-3734 or becerraj@caller.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can it be done without a highlight tape, ive been out of high school for 3 years and have no proof of a football career even though i played. I have the heart and determination but no highlight real. what should i do?