Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- LOOKING ON: Redshirt-junior wide receiver C.J. Carroll looks on at his teammates during their Monday afternoon lift. The Maryland native is a preferred walk-on for the Virginia Tech Hokies football team. Photo: Blayne Fink
by Blayne Fink–
John Engelberger, Cody Grimm, Will Montgomery, Sam Rogers—for some, those names are just that, names, but for Hokie fans, these are some of the most successful and impactful players to ever come through the Virginia Tech football program. However, what links these players is not just their success on the gridiron, but that they were all preferred walk-ons for the Hokies.
According to Recruiting-101, a preferred walk-on is a student athlete who has been noticed by a coach and are then offered a spot on a university’s athletic team, but who does not receive an athletic scholarship. With the glitz and glam of the recent National Signing Day still fresh in the minds of football fans, it begs the question: What is National Signing Day like for those preferred walk-ons?
“I kind of took part in it, but I just signed a blank piece of paper and got the pictures, that’s it,” said redshirt-junior wide receiver C.J. Carroll, a preferred walk-on for the Virginia Tech Hokies football team.
However, that’s not just it, it’s also the start of a long and trying process to ultimately earn that coveted scholarship and cement their name on the aforementioned list. Carroll, who was given a preferred walk-on spot in a signing class that featured highly touted players like Isaiah Ford and Travon McMillian, explains that his walk-on position requires playing with a different edge than that of scholarship athletes.
“You have to [play with an edge], there are very few of us out there that actually play, so once you get your opportunity, you have to make the most of it to try and earn a scholarship,” said Carroll. “As well as, to get the respect of other people who do have scholarships.”
Since joining the Hokies in the summer of 2014, Carroll has used that edge to work his way up in the team ranks, first, starting with the scout team and eventually becoming a key part of the Hokies offense and kick return game.
Carroll was also given the privilege of wearing the jersey number 25, awarded to the special team’s player of the week in honor of former head coach Frank Beamer, in the team’s game against Notre Dame. For Carroll, the opportunity had an even deeper meaning, as coach Beamer was always so giving to walk-ons like himself.
“It was crazy, that whole day was unbelievable,” said Carroll. “Notre Dame is a historic program and to wear that number 25 and play on national television…it was something that I won’t forget.”
As for the advice he would give to other players given a preferred walk-on spot?
“Work hard, earn the respect of players and coaches, and the rest will take care of itself,” said Carroll.
And that it did, just one day after the 2017 National Signing Day, Carroll was finally given his own, real, signing day when was awarded a scholarship by head football coach Justin Fuente.
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- WATCHFUL EYES: C.J. Carroll watches on as his teammates complete their sets of benchpress for the day. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- LIFTING: C.J. Carroll engages in off-season weight lifting sessions. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- PUSHING TEAMMATES: A key expectation of preferred walk-ons is the job of pushing starters. Here, Carroll cheers on his teammates completing a set of benchpress. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- GEAR: Preferred walk-on players are given the same gear as that of scholarship players, such as the w1n-0 training tops Carroll sports here. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- GOOD TIMES: Laughing along with teammates during an off-season workout, Carroll was quick to note that preferred walk-ons are treated no differently among the team. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 6- FROM NO TO PRO: Cody Grimm, a preferred walk-on turned NFL draft pick, is among the many Virginia Tech walk-ons to don a spot on the “Hokies in the NFL” wall. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- SPECIAL PLACES: Cody Grimm even grabbed a spot in legendary coach Frank Beamer’s book “Let Me Be Frank.” Beamer was well known for his work with special teams, a job taken very seriously, especially by walk-ons. Photo: Blayne Fink
Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 6- CAPTAIN: Former Hokie walk-on Jack Tyler earned a position as captain for the 2013 Virginia Tech football season. Former walk-ons such as Will Montgomery and Willie Byrn were also given the honor. Photo: Blayne Fink