Former Walk-Ons Playing Big Role For Ohio In 2014

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Walk-on athletes on the Ohio football team have a bit of a bounce in their step. They come to practice with the intention of earning their keep among the 85 scholarship athletes on the team.

“It just adds a chip to your shoulder,” freshman running back AJ Ouellette said. “You have to come out everyday and give your best just so you can get noticed.”

This season, many of the prominent Bobcat players actually began their college careers as walk-ons. Ouellette is one of the former walk-ons who has emerged into a key player. Others include quarterback J.D. Sprague, kicker Josiah Yazdani and linebacker Chad Moore. The walk-ons attribute their success to coming into the program at the bottom.

“It definitely taught me work ethic . . . I definitely had to work hard for everything,” said Yazdani. “It’s gonna teach you a lot of things that scholarship players don’t get to learn. You’re not entitled to anything. You come on the team and definitely have to work hard to earn your keep.”

Sprague is stepping in as the starting quarterback for the first time at Ohio after Derrius Vick went down with a knee injury against Idaho last Saturday. Sprague joined the team as a walk-on in 2012 and saw action in four games in 2013. With Ouellette scheduled to start on Saturday, too, it means Ohio's backfield starting backfield will comprised of former walk-ons. 

“I think it’s a rarity to see that in college ball, especially in those two positions because they are such skilled positions,” head coach Frank Solich said. “We didn’t know that the talent would have to be used right away with those two guys, but as they come out, they’re there for a reason, they’ve earned it.”

Ouellette’s work throughout the summer and fall camp earned him a scholarship before the season started. He saw action late in the game at Kent State, and played the majority of the game Saturday, and is starting to make a name for himself in Athens. Through four games, he leads the team with 205 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

“Everybody in the locker room treats you like you’re a scholarship athlete, but to you you know you’re not, so that’s what you’re working for,” Ouellette said. “When I came here I was treated just like every other player, and most of the players didn’t even know I was a walk on until I told them I got my scholarship.”

Through his experiences as a head coach, Solich learned to utilize the walk-on program. Solich does not have preconceived notions about his walk-ons, as he lets their performances speak for themselves.

“What [walk-ons] do while they’re here determines first team, second team, third team, and it has really served us well” Solich said. “The value of a good walk-on program is immeasurable in terms of helping you win football games – we know that, we understand that, and so we work hard in terms of bringing in good walk-ons.”