Drew Eastland ‘21
According to the NCAA, as of 2018, 46% percent of Division I athletes are classified as walk-ons. A walk-on is simply defined as any athlete who receives no form of athletic scholarship, writes USA Today. For this article, walk-on takes on a slightly different definition than the NCAA as any athlete who was not recruited by Davidson out of high school. Twenty-eight Davidson student athletes scattered across twelve different teams fit this bill, according to Associate Director of Athletics Katy McNay.
Football, men’s basketball, and men and women’s track and field each hold four walk-on athletes. Golf, wrestling, women’s basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, women’s soccer, women’s swimming and diving, and women’s tennis do not have any walk-on athletes.
Oddly enough, eight of the ten men’s sports at Davidson have at least one walk-on athlete, but only one third of the women’s teams have one such a player.
Walk-ons endure the physical, mental, and emotional grind of athletics coupled with the tough academic standards Davidson presents. The Davidsonian interviewed a number of walk-on athletes in order to get an inside look at what drove them to join the world of Division I sports once already at college.
Several athletes talked about how their love of athletics pushed them to take on the task. Themes of family and teamwork that go along with athletics have propelled many of these athletes into a walk-on role.
“I missed the support and friendships developed [through] practice and in competition,” cross-country runner Taylor Mingle ‘21 explained.
Mingle joined Davidson’s cross-country team this year after two years without playing a sport. Other athletes jumped right into contacting coaches as soon as they were admitted to Davidson.
“When I got accepted, I thought, ‘I’m going to be bored […] I’m not playing any sports,’” volleyball player Ginny Gerig ‘21 recalled. “I emailed [Coach Chris Willis], and it kind of just took off from there.”
Soccer goalkeeper Alan Morales Loyola ’21 had a much more uphill battle and had to reach out to coaches multiple times for the opportunity to stay involved in the program. Morales eventually “made them create a work-study” for him to be a part of the team.
“I just kept bugging them,” Morales recalled. “[Saying] ‘I want to stay involved somehow,’ ‘Is there anything I can do?’ ‘Can I just be a training player or something?’”
Not only do walk-ons face the difficult dual life of a student and athlete, but they also face constant pressure to fight for a roster spot and uncertainty about their position on the team.
“I think with most processes there is always some sort of uncertainty of achieving the goal,” Morales contemplated. “I do think this was also the case with me, especially because the whole ‘walk-on’ process was so new to the men’s soccer program.”
Davidson’s understanding of the work-hard, play-hard life of an athlete has motivated Gerig to continue playing, something she doesn’t think she would’ve found at another school.
“Davidson volleyball is really in a unique situation; if I was at any other school, I think I would’ve stopped playing by now,” Gerig said. “The way the coaches […] understand our academic schedules is really important to me. I’ve never had to sacrifice my academics for volleyball.”
Non-student athletes can join intramurals or club sports, but for some that extra element of an official team can be lacking. For Mingle, running was a huge stress reliever, but she missed the structured camaraderie that came with being on a team and so reached out to the cross-country coaching staff.
“[Running] became a healthy outlet where I could put aside the workload of the day and get off the busy and fast-paced Davidson campus,” Mingle explained. “Even though I maintained the stamina and endurance of an athlete, I was still missing one valuable thing […] a team.”
Despite limited playing time, long hours, and the daily grind, the small wins are huge for Davidson’s warrior walk-on athletes. Even putting on a college jersey for a special home game can mean a lot to these individuals.
“We played at Rhode Island, and [my mom] came and watched our game.” Gerig explained. “[My mom] seeing me in a college jersey was a really special moment for me.”