Walk-on reductions cause concerns

For several reasons--not least of which is the fact that Alabama must install an entirely new offense in a strictly limited amount of time--the decision has been made to reduce the number of walk-on positions on next year's squad.

Last season's fall roster listed 147 athletes. Since NCAA sanctions limited the Tide to no more than 80 scholarshipped athletes, that meant that 70 roster positions (give or take a few) were filled by walk-on players. And that number does not include another 15-20 players that did not practice with the team, but rather worked out exclusively in the weight room, in hopes of being allowed to join the squad in the spring.

Senior slotback Lance Taylor is a walk-on.

Tide Head Coach Mike Price told BamaMag.com recently that he plans to limit the 2003 squad to around 125 athletes, reducing the total squad size by approximately 40 players.

Several walk-ons from last year have already left the squad, including Adam Campbell of Ragland, T.J. Davidson of Foley, Nick Morgan of Helena, Raphael Tyrus of Geneva and Grant Nailen of Birmingham. Out-of-state walk-ons Max Skembo of Dallas, Texas and Jay Stubbs of Las Vegas, Nevada, are also gone.

As a former walk-on himself, Coach Price is a strong supporter of the walk-on program. But he's also a realist. And he frankly explained that his staff will be preoccupied this spring evaluating players and installing a new offense.

Spring practice is traditionally a time for walk-on players to catch a coach's eye. But while that opportunity still exists there simply will not be as many practice reps to spread around this year.

Since the new staff has not worked with any of the current players yet, final decisions on which walk-ons will be asked to stay will not be made until after spring drills. "We owe it to the current players," was how one coach put it. "Spring will give us a maximum chance to evaluate those players." Walk-on players already on the team will be given "first consideration" for the limited slots available.

Walk-on Kyle Robinson finished last season on top of the depth chart at placekicker.

However, immediately follow spring practice a paring process will take place. For example, right now around 21 different punters and placekickers are working out with the team. BamaMag.com was told "That number will be drastically reduced."

However, it's not only a matter of a total numbers. Careful attention will also be given to ensure that all of the various positions on the football team have adequate depth. The hard truth (for defensive backs and wide receivers) is that potential walk-on "skill players" are plentiful, while linemen are a precious commodity.

Even if the Tide has room for 50 new walk-ons in the fall (they probably won't), that number must be distributed among the various positions. If there is room for only five wide receivers, then only five will be accepted--even if 50 apply and are at least minimally qualified. On the other hand, if five defensive linemen are called for, five will be taken--even if only seven make the approval list.

Is that fair? Of course not. But life--much less, football--has never been fair.

Once the evaluation process of current squad members is finished, the coaches will know by position how many new walk-ons will be needed in the fall. That's the principal reason why relatively few decisions have been made regarding high school athletes, hoping to walk on next year.

As a defensive lineman, redshirt freshman walk-on J.P. Adams doesn't really need to worry about being cut.

A few (receiver Andrew Bone and punter Patrick Eades are examples) decisions have already been made, but most high school prospects won't find out their status for certain until April.

HINT: If a prospective high school walk-on receives an invitation from the Tide staff to attend A-Day on March 29th, that can probably be taken as a positive omen.

The evaluation process of prospective high school walk-ons is ongoing, with staff members reviewing film and judging talent. For any current high school senior that hopes to walk on at Alabama next fall, two points are absolutely crucial.

  • First, the Tide coaches cannot evaluate what they cannot see. Prospective walk-ons must send a highlight film in to be evaluated.
  • Second, due to NCAA regulations, the Tide coaches are strictly limited in their ability to contact prospective walk-ons. Essentially, all contact must be player-initiated. That means the prospects must place the phone calls themselves or come by the Football Complex. The best time to reach a coach is early morning or late afternoon.

In both cases, a player's high school coach can work magic. In fact, most prep coaches are glad to help put together a highlight tape and see that it gets delivered to the college staff. Plus--and this is very important to remember--there are no limitations on telephone contact between high school coaches and their college counterparts.

*IMPORTANT*: Walk-on athletes concerned about their status should ask their high school coach to contact the Alabama staff on their behalf. Again, a helpful high school coach can essentially solve all the communication problems.

Every year hundreds of players with a dream of walking on at Alabama end up disappointed. This year already almost 400 athletes have indicated an interest, so obviously there simply will not be room for everyone.

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