James, Burton share walk-on experiences
Some high school and college athletes fear the expression walk-on. When considering which school they want to attend as they enter their next phase as athletes, the role itself can mean their future is vague and uncertain.
The phrase identifies that the student athlete is not assured anything. When they are offered the opportunity to try out for the team, there is no guarantee they will find a home in the fall.
Last night, the Rutgers football team held its first meeting for any full time Scarlet Knight student who was interested in trying out for the team.
Head coach Kyle Flood said that it is a good opportunity to find students interested in making an impact on the team. Flood also admitted that once they do make the team, he doesn’t treat them any differently than an athlete who is on scholarship.
“Once they are on the team I don’t really worry about it,” Flood said. “It’s a good opportunity for people in the student body who want to be a part of the football program and show that they can have value and add something.”
Two standout players for the Knights who did not enter Rutgers as athletes on scholarship are junior running back Paul James and senior fullback Michael Burton.
James and Burton entered as preferred walk-ons, meaning that they supplanted a spot on the active roster when they enrolled at Rutgers. But both guys had a long way to go before they earned scholarships with the program.
Burton enters his fifth year at Rutgers after redshirting in 2010. But since the senior captain has been in the program, he has not noticed a difference in the way walk-ons are treated versus the way scholarship athletes are.
“They treat the walk-ons just like they treat the scholarship players. Everyone is treated the same,” Burton said. “Coach Flood does an awesome job helping everyone out with anything we ever need and taking care of us.”
Burton has been a staple offensively, switching to fullback early in his career and cementing a spot as a lead blocker over the past few years. But he insists as a walk-on there is no extra motivation needed.
“There’s not necessarily a chip on my shoulder, but I’m already a very competitive person,” Burton said. “Whether I came here as a walk-on, or as a scholarship player, I always had a chip on my shoulder to be competitive and be the best player out there.”
James emerged last season as one of the nation’s top rushers after finishing with 881 yards and nine touchdowns in eight games started.
As a walk-on, one of the ultimate goals is earning a scholarship and earning playing time. James offered advice for someone who has walk-on status.
“You have to not look at people as higher than you. You have to put yourself at the same level as everybody and compete with them,” James said. “It’s going to be hard to prove yourself, but every play you have to give 100 percent and make yourself stand out somehow, whether it is on special teams or scout team.”
James said as a New Jersey-born football player, Rutgers was a great place to enroll and play football whether it was as a preferred walk-on or a scholarship athlete. He said you just have to have the passion to do it.
“If you love football, you can do it anywhere. If you are willing to play and work hard, you can go anywhere,” James said. “I feel like Rutgers is a great place to do it, especially if you are a Jersey guy. If you have that burn and that drive to play football, and you know you can compete with the guys, then you should do it. That’s how I felt and I walked in. It’s going to be hard, but you can do it.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TylerKaralewich and @TargumSports on Twitter.