“Certainly to be an athlete worthy of a scholarship is a good thing, and it means you’ve worked hard. But I don’t know if anyone works harder than a walk-on, who does everything the scholarship player’s asked, and unlike the scholarship players, they pay their own way. There’s something about a heart of a walk-on that really sticks and meets with me.”
Those are the words of Spartans’ Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio. That’s his own extreme level of appreciation for the kids with the same, if not greater, guts, fight, drive and work ethic as those with scholarships, but with none of the benefits.
Perhaps no one better encapsulates those qualities than Jack Mandryk. The 6’1, 185 pound senior from Hudsonville High School spurned other offers to be a preferred walk-on at Michigan State for the 2017 class.
“I’m not one of the biggest guys,” Mandryk told Spartan Nation. “I’m not like one of those big five-star athletes. But I love the game of football and I’ll do whatever I can for the team, and I’m always passionate on the field.”
The journey from his hometown of Hudsonville, MI to East Lansing wasn’t the easiest one. “The first game of my junior year, actually, I broke my arm, so I was out my whole junior year, and a lot of schools sort of overlooked me,” said Mandryk. “So, no schools were really talking to me until after my senior year, and I picked up a few offers.”
Enter Michigan State.
“Coach [Mark] Staten, actually, from Michigan State, he sort of reached out to me,” said Mandryk. “He just stopped by school a few times. And eventually he came with the preferred walk-on, and I just talked it over with my family, and then eventually took it.”
From the outside looking in, this may not make much sense – why turn down a scholarship offer to be a preferred walk-on?
“It was very special. I’ve been going to Michigan State games since I was two-years old; my family has season tickets, so it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Mandryk explained.
Makes a little more sense now, doesn’t it? Get a scholarship to play football at a school he might not have wanted to be at…or try to chase his dream at his dream school.
For anyone that’s a little foggy on what exactly it means to be a “preferred walk-on,” let’s clear it up. You probably already know that walk-ons are players that choose to try out for, and play a sport at a school (that regularly gives out scholarships) while still paying full tuition to do so. What you might not realize is that there are actually two types of walk-ons in college athletics, preferred and regular. The difference is that preferred walk-ons are either recruited or invited to play for a school, which is exactly the case for Jack Mandryk.
Clearly, the decision to pass on guaranteed money, in order to walk on, isn’t an easy one, and couldn’t be made alone. But his family was behind him the entire way.
“Yeah, it is really amazing. I mean, my mom stuck with me through the whole process, she was great through everything. She supported my decision, and decided she’ll be there for me in whatever decision I decided to take, so it was awesome,” Mandryk said proudly.
So what can we expect to see from Jack Mandryk once he gets to East Lansing?
“Right now they just have me at strong safety, but they’re not really sure yet,” Mandryk said. “They said I could play multiple positions, so they said to see what happens when I get there.”
But what you can be sure to see from Jack are those qualities we mentioned before – guts, fight, drive and work ethic. Not to mention…the heart of a competitor.
“I think it’s just deep down. I always have loved the game of football, and I love to compete – I never like to lose. I just always compete in everything I do, and try to be the best in everything I can be,” said Mandryk.
So let’s bring this thing full-circle. We began talking about how much respect Mark Dantonio has for the heart of a walk-on. Let’s finish with a walk-on’s appreciation for a coach that understands and rewards the hard work of those who have to fight for everything.
“Yeah, that’s amazing. Preferred walk-ons, they have to play with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,“ Mandryk said. “Coming in, getting no money - they have to really love the game, and I think I do, so hopefully I fill that role when I get there.”
The hopes and expectations are high for Jack Mandryk, even as a walk-on. Here at Spartan Nation, we don’t think he’ll be a walk-on for long.
“There is one thing you can tell about a guy that’s going to earn a scholarship, and that is a guy who is all guts,” Hondo Carpenter said emphatically in their interview. “And Mandryk, you’re all guts!”