Walk-ons typically have a bigger obstacle to overcome when it comes to trust. No. 1, if he was big, fast and talented enough to play Big 12 football, he would've been offered a scholarship coming out of high school. A walk-on's got to prove he's trustworthy when the ball is in play.
Keenan Stevens started earning his teammates' and coaches' trust soon after he arrived last fall. He was a consistent standout on scout team in 2006. But that may seem like a long time ago for the true freshman from Monument, Colo., now. This spring he's been thrust into a primary role as center for the Buffs.
Sure, the Buffs are woefully thin along the offensive line this spring. Only six players have been healthy through the first three weeks. But Stevens has also earned the playing time. According to coaches, Stevens has a legitimate shot to see the playing field this fall. A starting position isn't out of the realm of possibility. At the least, he gives the Buffs some flexibility at the center position, where Daniel Sanders — who started at guard last fall — was expected to play.
"For him to be able to step in and do what he's done is a testament to the type of kid he is," offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. "He's one of the hardest working guys that I've been around. His motor just runs and runs and never stops. He only knows how to go full speed. I think that's the biggest thing that jumps out when he plays."
Stevens said he learned how to work hard growing up on his mother's horse ranch north of Colorado Springs. It was natural for him to carry that over to the football field. One place it shows up is when the team runs. Stevens is always the first offensive lineman to finish the run.
"I try to take pride in that, just go as hard as I can all the time and do the best I can," he said.
He's also developed a reputation for going hard every play in practice. In fact, Hawkins used him as an example for the entire team in a recent film session.
"We showed some clips to the team the other day of him running down field with receivers and running with linemen," Hawkins said. "The guy's got a great big heart."
Stevens played tackle and guard at Lewis-Palmer High. He was 250 pounds his senior year, and was offered a scholarship to Division I-AA Portland State, but wanted to play Division I-A ball. He contacted the CU staff last February and got a meeting with some of the coaches. Stevens brought along his highlight tape, and a few hours after he got home, he received a call asking him to walk on.
He's close to 280 pounds currently, and should be able to add some more weight. He's still only 19 years old.
Stevens is also adjusting to the mental side of playing center – the position responsible for making line calls.
"He's doing a good job," Grimes said. "He's got a long way to go before he's ready to play at this level. But with some of the new things we're doing in pass protection, everybody's got a little ways to go. He's learning quickly and making nice progress."
Grimes said Stevens' work ethic comes into play when he's learning that side of things, as well. Don't be surprised if the walk-on works his way into the lineup at some point in 2007.
Dan Hawkins warned us about guys like Stevens.