Leistikow: Being Walk-On U. still the Hawkeye way
One, two, three, four, five.
That couldn’t be right. I checked again.
One, two, three, four … five.
Yep, that’s five current Iowa football starters who don’t have scholarships.
That prompted me to look at something else.
One, two, three, four.
Yep, four additional former walk-ons in the Hawkeyes’ spring starting lineup.
Just one more thing to add up.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Another seven walk-ons are listed as second-teamers for the Hawkeyes.
Even coming off a Rose Bowl appearance and the program's fifth top-10 national finish in 14 seasons, Iowa remains Walk-On U.
“I think it is (unique). I don’t know if anybody could rival the numbers we’ve had,” 18th-year Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz told me Tuesday. “There are a number of good players that get overlooked in the recruiting process.”
Brandon Snyder is one of those guys. The counting is easy here: Zero. That’s how many Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers Snyder got after a successful multi-sport career at West Lyon High School. But the Hawkeye coaching staff, with Reese Morgan and former West Lyon star LeVar Woods doing the legwork, persuaded Snyder to take a preferred walk-on spot in the fall of 2014.
Now the Larchwood native (population 880) is Iowa’s starting free safety — and he pays for his own tuition, books and housing.
Snyder’s ascent embodies Walk-On U.
He's not just a nice story. Someday, maybe soon, he's going to be really good.
“He’s one of the strongest defensive backs we have. He’s fast, too,” said outgoing free safety Jordan Lomax, a co-captain on the 12-2 Hawkeyes of 2015. “He brings that walk-on mentality, that I’m going to do my job for the team and do whatever it takes to win.”
Snyder is on track to join the likes of Sean Considine, Derek Pagel and Brett Greenwood, who took Iowa walk-on opportunities and became multi-year Big Ten Conference starting safeties.
“There’s a lot of guys working hard. I just come every day, whether it’s lifting or practice, whatever it is, and just give it my best,” Snyder said. “I show up every day with a great mentality. However it works out, it works out.”
Harnessing walk-ons has been an Iowa hallmark, first under Hayden Fry and now Ferentz. In our conversation this week, Ferentz perked up when the walk-on subject was broached. He quickly regaled his early days as Iowa's coach, when Kevin Kasper (whose 82 receptions in 2000 still shares a school record) and Dallas Clark (a Mackey Award-winning tight end who needs no introduction) went from walk-ons to Hawkeye stars.
Without hesitation, Ferentz itemized three former walk-ons who had major roles on his 2004 Big Ten championship team: Considine, Tyler Luebke and Pete McMahon.
Like Kasper and Clark, those players earned scholarships at Iowa. Snyder and third-year starting long snapper Tyler Kluver are next in line to get full rides once they come available.
What a concept: Free-market competition that rewards hard work and performance.
“That’s part of the reason we’ve had success; we try to be as fair as we possibly can,” Ferentz said. “So once a guy (is deserving), we’re going to get them on aid as fast as we can.”
Sure, it would be simpler if Iowa regularly attracted five-star left tackles to plug into its offensive line.
But for reasons we could debate and discuss for hours, that isn't realistic.
And so in 2016, two former walk-ons — left tackle Cole Croston, left guard Boone Myers — will protect the blind side of senior quarterback C.J. Beathard.
Iowa's track record of thrusting no-star walk-ons into key roles keeps widespread worries on the sidelines. Many will pick the Hawkeyes to repeat as Big Ten West champions, even with a safety who pays for his education.
In a month that saw two programs carry a scandalous cloud into college basketball's Final Four, this is a timely reminder: There's nothing wrong with being known as Walk-On U.
“We awarded (Croston) a scholarship,” offensive line coach Brian Ferentz noted this week. “But to me, if you come into this program without one, you're a walk-on till the day you leave here. And that’s a badge of honor.”
HAWKEYES' WALK-ON FOOTPRINT
Information based on spring depth chart:
Walk-on starters (5): LS Tyler Kluver (6-0, 220, Jr.), FB Drake Kulick (6-1, 236, Jr.), PK Miguel Recinos (6-1, 190, Soph.), P Colten Rastetter (6-2, 205, Fr.)., FS Brandon Snyder (6-1, 210, Soph.).
Starters who are former walk-ons (4): OLB Bo Bower (6-1, 235, Jr.), LT Cole Croston (6-5, 307, Sr.), WR Riley McCarron (5-9, 186, Sr.), LG Boone Myers (6-5, 305, Jr.).
Second-string walk-ons (7): DE Sam Brincks (6-5, 270, Soph.), FS Jake Gervase (6-1, 210, Soph.), C Steve Ferentz (6-2, 282, Sr.), RT Dalton Ferguson (6-4, 310, Soph.), DT Jake Hulett (6-3, 285, Jr.), FB Brady Ross (6-1, 240, Fr.), LS Jackson Subbert (6-3, 230, Fr.).