“You have to work really, really hard. The coaches are not there to hold your hand. A player has to know that going in…”
University of Florida Volleyball
2007 – Preferred Walk-on – Played in 99 games
2008 – Played in 28 out of 31 matches
2009 – Played in 30 Matches
2010 – Starting Libero for SEC Champions
29-2 Overall Record and 20-0 SEC record
Ranked #1 in the AVCA Coaches Poll for eight weeks
Erin Fleming was 5 years old when she started playing volleyball with her older sister in an organized novice program. She grew and developed into an AVCA, American Volleyball Coaches Association, High School Senior All-American. She helped lead Lake Highland Prep to three straight 3A Florida state championships. Mary Wise, the head volleyball coach for the University of Florida, attended a tournament where she was looking for a player that was a sound leader with high energy and well developed technical skills. She found Erin. Mary shared with Erin the advantages of joining the University of Florida volleyball team. Erin was convinced it was a good fit and chose to become a preferred walk-on. Erin’s height seems to be the main reason she didn’t get a scholarship coming out of high school. Erin is between 5’8 ½ and 5’9.
Erin loves being a defensive player and playing the back row. That was her opportunity at U of F. Academically, socially, and distance all played a role in her selection to become a Gator. It was the perfect fit, except for the lack of a scholarship. Erin was offered a scholarship from three smaller schools and turned them down.
A unique challenge that Erin faced was to have been given a scholarship only to have it taken away. From the beginning Coach Wise told Erin this might happen. Before Erin’s junior year she was given the scholarship and a year later it was taken away.
WillofaChampion: Having earned a scholarship only to have it taken away must have been challenging.
Erin: It was challenging. The scholarship helped my parents a lot. But I knew if coaches needed it back then that is what they needed to do, and they must have a good reason for it.
WillofaChampion: How have you kept a positive attitude and not become bitter?
Erin: I have a great support system with my family and the girls on the team. They both believed in me. And I know I can play for this team. You have to have a positive attitude and it isn’t always easy, trust me. I have my bad days. But you learn to work through the bad and embrace the good.
WillofaChampion: What has been your greatest challenge as a walk-on?
Erin: The U of F volleyball program really doesn’t treat walk-ons any different than scholarship players. That may not be true of other programs. But it is true of volleyball. The biggest challenge I probably faced was to find my own meals and then eat with friends other than the scholarship volleyball players. The girls on scholarship got to get a meal provided by the school.
WillofaChampion: How did your teammates receive you as a walk-on?
Erin: Very well. I really was not treated any differently than any other player. With the exception of the dinner arrangements mentioned before.
WillofaChampion: How did your coaches receive you?
Erin: They treated me just like any other player. I got the same equipment, shoes, knee-pads, and gear. We are not separated or looked down upon. The coaches didn’t do anything to point out we are a walk-on.
WillofaChampion: Did you have to put in extra time working out, running, or practicing?
Erin: Oh yeah! I came to the gym early for serving reps and extra skill work. Every year my role changed. At the beginning of the year they needed a consistent server that could play a certain defensive position. I hadn’t played that defense since I was 11 years old. But I had to come in to do the extra work to earn the spot and you have to keep working to keep the spot.
WillofaChampion: Do you still enjoy playing volleyball?
Erin: I love it. Our season came to an abrupt end and it was very upsetting and it is sad it is over. (U of F lost to Purdue in the Sweet 16) But I will continue to support U of F volleyball.
WillofaChampion: What is the difference between you and walk-ons that don’t make it?
Erin: Maybe the expectations coming into the program. You have to be prepared that this is college and you can’t have your parents calling to complain about your playing time or complain about anything. It is almost like a job. You have to work really, really hard. The coaches are not there to hold your hand. A player has to know that going in. Too many people think college is like club volleyball and it is nothing like that. It is a full-time job demanding total dedication.
You also have to love the sport of volleyball and respect it. And respect what these coaches do and what the college level is all about. So just being prepared and understand what you’re walking into; especially as a walk-on.
WillofaChampion: How has achieving your goal or dream to be a Gator athlete impacted the rest of your life?
Erin: Being a Gator athlete is an honor. I am very proud to say I was and am a Gator athlete and will represent the orange and blue the rest of my life. Right now I am applying for jobs and when people see I played U of F volleyball they want to talk about my experience here. Many people here are Gator fans and they want to talk to me about it. They really don’t ask me about other things on my resume.
When they see I was a successful walk-on that shows determination and the ability to never give up. To go after what you want. That is what I did and I am happy I took that risk. All these things I’ve learned I will carry into my work and social life.
Sometimes during an interview I will be asked if I have any regrets. Actually, when I was on scholarship I wasn’t playing. People asked me if I rather be on scholarship or playing. That is hard because the scholarship really helped my parents. But I love and cherish playing volleyball. Of course, I want both. But I’ve never regretted walking-on or the scholarship situation. It has been a life lesson and I’ve learned from it. I get to walk away with a legacy that the coaches will use when recruiting other players and I am thankful for that.
WillofaChampion: Tell me about the first time the coach told you that you would start?
Erin: Coach Wise called some of us into the office to talk about volleyball. That happens a lot. But this day coach said to me, “I want you to know you’ve worked really hard over the season and this Libero position is yours.” It was really good to hear those words come out of my coach’s mouth. I knew I had earned it. I simply replied, “Thank you, Coach.” No one gave it to me, no exceptions were made, I had worked really hard and I kind of already knew that it was mine. I was being aggressive and going after it. I was happy and excited. Of course I called my mom right-away.
WillofaChampion: What advice do you have for other potential walk-on athletes?
Erin: Choose a school that has everything you want. Make sure the location is right, if you want your family to be at every game then be close to them. Talk to your coaches and find out how they treat walk-ons, understand what you’re getting into. Know what walk-ons do and don’t get. You need to be able to weigh the pros and cons of each school you’re considering.
You have to be confident you can play at the school you walk-on to. Watch the girls play, as you watch if you know you can play with them, great. If you’re not sure, that may not be the place for you.
Erin Fleming earned Southeastern Conference Academic Honor Roll three times and was a four time letter letter winner. Erin had 702 digs in her four years. She averaged 3.61 digs per set her senior year placing her eighth in the SEC. Erin will graduate with a degree in recreation and event management.
Interview: December 2010.