Playing Alabama Football Not Easy
A recent poster child for non-scholarshipped player success at Alabama is Rashad Johnson. A former Crimson Tide assistant coach was deriding the Scout.com recruiting staff for not recognizing Johnson as a high school player. At the risk of offending the coach, it was pointed out that he was a prep star at Sulligent, practically in Tuscaloosa's backyard, and he had been overlooked by Bama recruiters, too.
Johnson came to Alabama as a walk-on running back and left following the 2008 season as a star safety, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.
Most walk-ons, of course, will not have such success, but the possibility exists.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban discussed the importance of having walk-on players and also explained the difficult path to being a non-scholarshipped member of the Crimson Tide. One doesn't just decide in mid-August to go join the team.
In some cases, he said, his coaches see prospects who are not quite able to earn a scholarship out of high school, but who are invited to walk on and try to earn a spot on the team – and perhaps game playing time and even a scholarship.
And, at Alabama, maybe a national championship ring or two.
Almost all who follow the program are aware of the Fourth Quarter Program, the grueling winter off-season workouts devised by Saban and Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Cochran. What many don't know is that this is a class that any student can sign up for. A student who is not a member and who goes through the program has a chance to be added to the squad.
The position has something to do with the likelihood of success for a walk-on. As pointed out in Part I of this series, it is difficult for a quarterback to earn playing time.
The most common positions for non-scholarshipped players to make the grade have historically been wide receiver on offense and secondary on defense.
Moreover, it is particularly common for members of the special teams – including the specialists like placekicker, punter, and deep snapper – to walk on to a team. Currently, Alabama's punter (Cody Mandell), short placekicker (Jeremy Shelley), and deep snapper (Carson Tinker) are men who came to Bama without benefit of scholarship. Kelly Johnson, who is listed as the back=up snapper and a tight end, plays on several kicking teams in coverage and returns. All four were honored with at least one spring practice award
There are other non-scholarshipped specialists expected to be among the 105 reporting for fall camp. They are punter Wilson Whorton, kicker Dillon Drake, and long snappers M.K. Taylor and Matt Wilkinson.
It is common for players to get first game experience as a member of special teams, and that is as true for walk-ons as it is for scholarshipped players. Coverage and returns require speed, which is part of the reason that wide receivers and defensive backs have a better chance of seeing playing time. On last year's national championship team the likes of Will Lowery (before he was injured) and Hardie Buck were staples on special teams coverage units.
Although both the wide receiver corps and the secondary lost a number of performers from last year's team, it will still be difficult for a walk-on to break into the playing rotation.
There are no vewer than seven defensive backs among Bama's walk-on candidates for 2012. Ranzell Watkins has seen a little game action. Best known of the walk-on defensive backs is Caleb Castille, the son of Bama all-time great cornerback Jeremiah Castille and brother of former Tiders Tim and Simeon. Other non-scholarshipped candidates for the secondary are Parker Philpot, Levi Cook, Hunter Bush, Taylor Morton, and Jerrod Bierbower.
Nick Williams, the son of Bama Assistant Coach Bobby Williams, Nathan McAllister, Marcus Polk, and Parker Barrineau are the walk-on wide receiver prospects.
Running back Ben Howell, fullback Tommy Keys, and tight end Michael Nysewander are walk-ons who could figure in. One tight end walk-on is sitting out this season after transferring to Bama from South Alabama. When he becomes eligible next year, Corey McCarron could become a favorite target of quarterback AJ McCarron, Corey's big brother.
Three linebackers who have walked on at Alabama are Tyler Owens, Rowdy Harrell, and Josh Dickerson.
Offensive linemen who are expected to be in camp without benefit of scholarship are Russell Raines and Aaron Joiner.
If Alabama fans voted for the best player in the history of the program, it is likely that Ozzie Newsome – the Crimson Tide's Player of the Decade for the 1970s – would get a lot of votes. Among Bama walk-on candidates is Ozzie's son, defensive tackle Michael Newsome.
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