Recently I received the question on a comment regarding the difference between being a walk on and a preferred walk on. With both terms being thrown around often in the recruiting process, it is important for you to know the difference. In my opinion, there is a big difference between the two that recruits must be aware of.
Let me start by talking about a preferred walk on. When a coach says that they want to offer you a preferred walk on spot, they are saying that they will eventually have a spot for you on the roster when school gets underway in the fall. You have been given the green light to at least be on the team during the first year and be a part of practice.
A walk on is in a much tougher situation. Colleges even at the Division I level in football have tryouts to see if you can make the team. If you are a walk on, you will be going to those tryouts to see if you are good enough to practice with the big boys throughout the entire year. You basically have a tryout to be able to be a preferred walk on.
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So if you are a recruit, the situation you would rather be looking for is the preferred walk on. It means that unless you quit, you will be with the team. This does not mean you will be traveling (Freshman walk ons rarely travel with the team to begin with) or that you will be getting a scholarship down the road. It just means that you can come to practice everyday.
The reason someone may just be a walk on to begin with is if the coaches question that the recruit is good enough to play there. For example, say you grew up everyday following Nebraska. You had a solid high school career but would do anything to play for the Cornhuskers. You may try talking to the coaches and see if you can make the team as a walk on. I believe you should eventually get a try out to see if they think you have what it takes. I have heard many situations where hundreds of athletes try to make it in a walk on role and each and every one of them ended up getting cut.
If you are considering taking a preferred walk on spot at a school, one important thing that you must try and receive is a guaranteed roster spot. Schools are allowed to bring in 85 football players during early August to begin preseason practice. Because there is a scholarship limit at all levels, there is no way that every single one of those players will be on scholarship. So that means walk ons have the potential to take some of those spots.
For the most sought after walk ons, some schools are willing to offer roster spots for August. That does not mean you will have the spot over the course of your career, but that first year, you will be reporting with the team in early August.
If you are just a preferred walk on, you will be able to legally start practice once school gets underway. Some schools start in mid August while others wait until September. The later school starts, the harder it will be for you as an athlete to catch up. How easy would it be to come in having missed a month of practice and trying to compete?
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