You need to put in the extra work. You have to want it. The guys that don’t want it don’t stick it out. – Rod Walker
University of New Hampshire
2011- Starter, Full Scholarship, 55 tackles
2010 – Played in 13 games, CAA Academic All-Conference Team, 17 tackles
2009 – Played in 7 games, 10 tackles
2008 – Limited action, 3 tackles
2007 – Redshirt season
Rod is originally from New Hampshire. He wanted to stay in state and attend a university with reputable academics and a good football program. When he graduated from Portsmouth High School he didn’t have top colleges recruiting him. He mainly considered division III schools. But the University of New Hampshire fit exactly what Rod wanted for his post-secondary experience. He and the coaches talked and he joined UNH as a recruited walk-on.
WillofaChampion: Why do you think you were not offered a scholarship coming out of high school?
Rod: Good question. I think partially because I intended to stay in state and play for UNH one way or another. The other part might be that my high school is sometimes over looked by recruiters.
WillofaChampion: You chose UNH mainly because it was in-state, good academics, and solid football?
Rod: Yes. It has the major I wanted. Plus, I had some things to prove in football.
WillofaChampion: What has been one of your greatest challenges as a walk-on?
Rod: Sticking with it when I was so deep on the depth chart. There were three or four very good veteran players in front of me. I put everything I could into improving. I spent a lot of time in the weight room and training on and off the field. I wanted to be ready when it was my turn.
WillofaChampion: Did you have to spend extra-time running, lifting, and training compared to the scholarship players?
Rod: Yes. I was very motivated. I worked out hard in the off-season. I got stronger. Coach McDonnell (Head Football Coach University of New Hampshire) emphasizes that everything you do is part of your evaluation in our program. I took that to heart. I did everything I could to show them I can play.
WillofaChampion: Do you have to be more mentally tough as a walk-on compared to a scholarship player?
Rod: Based on my experience – yes. When the scholarship freshman arrives he has a little different mentality than the walk-on freshman. A walk-on has to earn things, nothing is given to him.
WillofaChampion: How did your teammates receive you when you walked-on?
Rod: Whether you’re a walk-on or scholarship player the freshmen all get treated the same. We make it a point in our program to treat everyone like they’re family. I felt at home. That is part of the reason I stayed. The older guys taught us things and made us feel comfortable. They were good leaders.
WillofaChampion: How did your coaches receive you compared to other freshmen players?
Rod: We all got to play scout team a lot. The coaches did spend a little more time with the scholarship players. But I understand that because their invested in the scholarship player.
WillofaChampion: What success or successes are you most proud?
Rod: I am most proud of: sticking it out through the tough times, earning a scholarship so I could help my family financially, and earning progressively more playing time until I became a starter.
WillofaChampion: Why do you think you’ve made it when other walk-ons do not?
Rod: Our program isn’t for everyone. The guys that fit stick it out. They have self-motivation. Our team does motivate one another but you need it on your own. You need to put in the extra work. You have to want it. The guys that don’t want it don’t stick it out.
WillofaChampion: When you went through challenging times with whom did you talk?
Rod: My family and my teammates. My teammates were going through it with me. I would talk with them about struggles and we’d help each other.
WillofaChampion: How did you find out you received a scholarship?
Rod: It wasn’t a momentous occasion. It was during the spring. Coach McDonnell called me into his office after practice and informed me I’d earned a partial scholarship. If fall camp went well I would receive a full scholarship. During fall camp I earned the starting Weak-Safety position. All starters get a full scholarship. I made it.
WillofaChampion: What was it like telling your parents?
Rod: My mother was very happy because she knew why I was working so hard. I am thankful I could help her financially. It isn’t easy for a single parent.
WillofaChampion: What impact has following your dream and earning it had on the rest of your life?
Rod: This program has taught me a lot of great values; especially self-motivation and persevering. Those are attributes I can apply to life, my job, and career. You have to want it bad enough.
WillofaChampion: What advice do you have for other athletes considering walking-on?
Rod: Follow your dream and put in the extra effort so it will come true. Don’t let anyone get you down. Learn from others. Keep improving and don’t stop trying.
Rod majored in Economics. He will graduate this December.
Interview: December, 2011