Eventually, a handful of those players turn into solid special teams performers, while an even smaller percentage become starters and valued contributors. Usually that process takes at least two or three years to play out, but there are exceptions.
At West Virginia, the exception is named Scott Gyorko. The University (Morgantown, W. Va.) High graduate came to WVU for the 2001 season just excited to have the chance to be a member of the team, and wound up taking the field as a special teams member as a true freshman.
"I came in and played special teams the first year, and I thought about that some," Gyorko admitted. "I thought 'Wow, here I am 18 years old and I'm playing college football.' It was amazing, being on the Division 1 level right out of high school."
Gyorko's play that year justifed the staff's decision to get him on the field. He had several big plays, with the highlight of the season being a seven tackle performance against Rutgers that earned him WVU's special teams champion award. It also led the coaches to put him a scholarship - again, a rarity for a walk-on who has completed just one year.
Gyorko then took the next step during his sophomore year, making 32 tackles both as a member of special teams and as a backup linebacker. And in 2003, the local product advanced to the top of the depth chart, racking up 119 tackles (tied for third-most on the team) from a starting linebacker position).
Coming from the bottom of the depth chart to such a position in just a little over two years might seem to be an amazing progression, but Gyorko believes that is one of the strengths of the WVU program.
"Everyone treated me the same when I came in as a walk-on," the rugged linebacker recalled. "It doesn't matter whether you are a scholarship guy or a walk-on. Every player tries to help you out, and you try to help everyone else out, because that's what helps the team. It's not like 'Hey, you're a walk-on, so I'm not going to help you.'"
Gyorko hopes to be a leader on the 2004 Mountaineer defense, and knows it's now his turn to help out the youngsters who are just getting their ears wet in the Mountaineer system. And so far, he thinks that the WVU defenders are ahead of their pace of a year ago.
"We're gelling a lot better than what we did last year, I think. We're just all flying around having fun.. I'm looking forward to August."
That month will bring the final season of Gyorko's all too short West Virginia career. And while he admits, with a wry laugh, that he's not looking forward to two-a-day practices, he does say that he's anxious for it to begin.
"Some people say your time goes by in the blink of an eye, but I feel like my first three years have gone by so slow," Gyorko said. And although that's not an opinion shared by many Mountaineer fans, he has obviously enjoyed his time in the gold and blue.
As a sneior, Gyorko will naturally be cast in a leadership role, but he's not a holler guy between the lines.
"I'm not a very vocal guy out on the field. I'd rather do it than talk about it. If I see the defense slacking off, I might get in their faces and tell them about it," Gyorko said. "What's important is finding out what kind of guy each person is and what helps them. If it's a guy that responds to that kind of stuff, then you do it, but the next guy might not. You have to know what each person is going to respond to."
Gyorko is a level-headed sort, and as such should be an ideal player to keep the Mountaineers on an even keel in face of the high expectations that are already being generated for the 2004 squad. Like any good leader, he says that WVU's focus needs to remain on their work, not on what other teams or the media are saying.
"It's kind of had to shrug off the hype, but we know we have to gt out there and practice and keep working hard. You don't know what the other team is doing right now, so we know we have to prove ourselves every day. We have to improve every day and get better."