Bevy of walk-ons helps supplement football squad

There's an NCAA rule that limits college football teams from bringing more than 105 players into fall camp. That's never been much of a problem for Vanderbilt, which in recent memory has seldom had more than six or eight walk-on players at one time. But like a lot of other things under head coach Bobby Johnson, that appears to be changing for the good.

There's an NCAA rule that limits college football teams from bringing more than 105 players into fall camp. That's never been much of a problem for Vanderbilt, which in recent memory has seldom had more than six or eight walk-on players at one time.

But like a lot of other things under head coach Bobby Johnson, that appears to be changing for the good. When the full squad reported Tuesday, the total number of players was 102. Of those 102, according to an official media release, 20 were walk-ons, and ten were there for the first time.

Hey, that's news. It's not unusual for big state schools to have 105, but this is probably the first time in a couple of years, if ever, that the Commodores have broken into three digits.

One of the overlooked aspects of recruiting is that of the "invited" walk-ons. Long after signing day passes each February, coaching staffs continue talking to unsigned players, hoping to encourage the best ones to enroll in school at their own expense. Because of its high tuition rate, Vanderbilt is once again at a big disadvantage when compared to most state schools.

But based on this year's response, it appears the Johnson staff's efforts have been more successful than usual.

"We love to have them. We'd like to fill it out to 105 if we could," said Johnson. "When a guy wants to come to your school, pay $40,000 a year to go to school AND come out and practice, they're seeing something positive."

Among the most highly regarded in this year's new group of walk-ons are J. T. Simms, a receiver transferring in after a year at Cornell; J. P. Day, a 6-foot-5, 260-pounder who could bolster the defensive line, where Vandy is always thin; and Tyler Zahnd, a 6-3, 230-pound linebacker who was a first-team All-State selection in 5A in Alabama.

"You never really know about some of those guys," said Johnson. "You've got to get them in there and check them out and compare them to the rest of our players."

Two walk-ons, Jason Burns and Walter Clark, could potentially contribute this year to Coach J. D. Hall's receiving corps, which is always searching for playmakers. Senior fullback Clark Lea figures to be the backup behind starter Matthew Tant.

Having a solid group of walk-ons helps provide the scout team with an adequate number of players, and protects the squad against the sometimes-devastating effects of injuries. Fans may recall that tailback Jason Bourque saw considerable action last season when injuries decimated Vandy's running back corps-- by the Tennessee game, Bourque was just about the only tailback still healthy.

Another position that may be ripe for a walk-on is that of placekicker-- scholarship kicker Patrick Johnson is expected to win the job, but walk-ons Shawn Bercuson, Nathan True-Daniels and Tolga Ertugrul will get a look from the staff.

A walk-on who works hard could always be awarded a scholarship somewhere down the road, Johnson said. Jason Daniels, the Commodores' designated snapper in the kicking game the last few seasons, is a former walk-on who has laboreed diligently within the program and has been rewarded with a scholarship for his senior season. Fulback Bara Cola, a now-graduated five-year player who alternated with Tant at fullback last season, received the same favor from the staff last year.

"You never know. At Furman we had a walk-on who went on to play eight years in the NFL," said Johnson. "So, it can happen. We welcome them. We like for them to come, and we don't hesitate to give them a scholarship if we have one available."

The ten new walk-ons who reported to camp Tuesday were:

Adrian Reif FS 6-2 195 Clarkstown, Ind./Lady of Providence
Patrick K. Johnson WR 6-1 195 Houston, Texas/Memorial
Chris Brown FB 6-2 230 Erwin, Tenn./Unicoi
Tyler Zahnd LB/DE 6-3 230 Killen, Ala./Brooks
J.P. Day DL 6-5 260 Indianapolis, Ind./Park-Tudor School
Bill Rovella DE 6-3 220 Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach
Bill Robertson P 6-0 185 Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park
J.T. Simms WR 6-3 205 Bourne, Mass./Phillips (transfer from Cornell)
Chuck Edwards FS 6-3 190 Servierville, Tenn./Gatlinburg-Pittman
Chart Westcott RB 5-8 185 Dallas, Texas/Glenn Hills

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Vanderbilt's women's basketball team will be heading to Miami, Fla. Dec. 28-29 to take part in the Gatorade Holiday Classic, along with Rhode Island, Toledo and Miami (Fla.). Melanie Balcomb's Commodores will take on Rhode Island the first night, and play the Hurricanes-Rockets winner the second night.

Hello, South Beach! I am so there... provided it doesn't interfere with any bowl plans.

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Contact Brent at brent@vandynation.com


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