Walk-on Watch

West Virginia's track record with walk-ons has been well-documented over the years, but even those who follow the program closely might be surprised to learn that 24 players who came to campus with scholarships will have earned one at some point in their careers during the Rich Rodriguez era.

Numbers such as those give great hope to players who eschew small-college offers to take their shot at the highest levels of Division 1A, and success stories such as Owen Schmitt, who blitzed to folk hero status while earning a scholarship, are proof-positive that talented players will get their chance in the Mountaineer program. While most won't rocket to stardom the way Schmitt did, the numbers show that many walk-ons end up earning their keep and become valuable contributors.

Last year, Ohio center Tim Reed decided to turn down other offers and walk on at WVU, and he immediately grabbed the attention of offensive line coach Rick Trickett. Of course, Reed isn't ready to move past Dan Mozes at center or Jeremy Sheffey at guard, but he shows promise, and could certainly be in the mix in future years. This year, it's a Pennsylvanian who decided to bypass a number of 1AA offers, including several from the Ivy League, to take his shot at the big time.

"I decided I wanted to go as big as possible and West Virginia is as big as it can get," big Phil Conroy told BlueGoldNews.com. "At times, I felt like I might get an offer [from WVU], but it didn't work out. But when they offered the preferred walk-on, I took that.

"I just feel that if I work my hardest, everything else will fall in place," said Conroy. "I think I can show them I can play and earn a spot. It was reassuring to hear about the walk-on program from Coach Rodriguez. I think that if I can get the chance, I can show what I can do."

One thing the 6-4, 285-pound lineman has going for him is his mobility and background as a pass blocker. Playing left tackle in a pass-oriented offense, Conroy did a good enough job to earn all-conference and all-WPIAL first team honors, as well as third team all-state notice. His performance, built on a sold base of fundamentals, leads him to believe he can compete in the Big East.

"I work as hard as I can on the fundamentals, and playing tackle gave me the opportunity to work on my pass blocking a lot, because we were a two-to-one pass to run ratio team," Conroy explained. "I definitely think I can play tackle in college."

Although he accepted a walk-on offer in February, Conroy didn't make his first trip to WVU's campus until this week. He checked out a day of spring practice and then toured the campus, with special attention to the School of Engineering, where he will spend a good deal of time.

"It's just a giant campus, and all the people there – it was kind of surreal," said Conroy, who comes from Class AA South Fayette High School. "I liked the engineering school a lot – that will be my major, and it was definitely one of my first choices. It was one of my main reasons for going there."

Even with an honor-filled high school career, Conroy knows he will be going back to the bottom of the heap when he arrives at West Virginia in August. Still, he isn't worried about the challenges that will be presented to him.

"I think that if I work hard, I will be accepted - I'm not worried about that at all," he said as he wrapped up the interview to participate in a weightlifting session. "I'm just excited for the opportunity. I don't think that just because I'm a walk-on that I will have less of a chance."


Conroy played against Carmen Connolly in high school. Connolly, who sat out the first semester as a grayshirt, is currently participating in spring practice.

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Despite playing a number of quality teams, Conroy believes Class AA football is often looked down upon.

"We played a lot of high level teams, and there are a lot of good players in Class AA," he said. "Still, a lot of people overlook it. But I think I played some good competition."

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Conroy is not playing any sports this spring, but is concentrating on lifting with the Pittsburgh Barbell Club lifting team.

"It's based in Bridgeville, and we get together three or four times a week. Sometimes we go to competitions – I went to one last summer. We work a lot on speed and explosiveness."

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Conroy already compares favorably with his teammates-to-be on the offensive line in one area: GPA. He carries a 3.9 average.

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