By Jamie Levenson
Division I sports are highly popular on college campuses, but what some people do not realize is that there are two different ways the players can join these competitive teams. Some athletes are recruited directly from high school, while others take a different approach. After they arrive on campus, they have to try out for the team. These athletes are called walk-ons. I spoke with Mario Wilson, a Bryant golf team member who had to try out, as well as Matt Stafford, who was recruited by Bryant’s golf coach, Charlie Blanchard. I questioned both teammates about the difference between being a walk-on and being a recruit. They took different paths to arrive at the same place:
Name: Mario Wilson
Please describe the experience of being a golf team walk-on.
In Mario’s response, he indicated that he had not been recruited at any of the schools he applied to, but hoped to be able to play on the team while in school. He chose Bryant mainly for its academics, but its Division I status contributed to its appeal. He decided to email the golf coach to ask him if there were tryouts, and what he would have to do. The coach told him that there would probably be a small invitational tryout in the fall. The coach asked for his tournament scores from the summer to determine if he qualified for the tryouts. From there, he had a two -week tryout in which he played seventy-two holes with different team members.
Did you feel included even though you were not recruited?
He indicated that even before his tryout, he already knew some of the team members. They helped him through the tryout process and were delighted when he was chosen. During the off season, indoor practice consisted of team lifting in addition to hitting off of indoor mats. At this point, he felt thoroughly included.
Did you feel you were on an equal playing field with the recruits?
He spoke about how he felt equal playing with the teammates who were recruited. He mentioned how he had the same practices as the regular teammates, and was held to the same expectations.
Name: Matt Stafford
What distinguished Bryant’s golf team from the other choices?
He indicated that Coach Blanchard played a significant role in his decision to accept Bryant’s offer. From the moment they met, Matt felt a strong rapport with him, and recognized that this coach would help improve his game. He mentioned that his official recruiting trip to the Bryant campus made a strong impression on him, and strongly influenced his choice. He enjoyed meeting the other golfers and appreciated all their advice.
How did being a member of a sports team influence your social life at Bryant?
He indicated that from the moment he set foot on campus, he discovered that he had fourteen close friends with whom he could share his passion for golf. They all helped him become accustomed to Bryant and, “showed him the ropes.”
How does the pressure of being a Division I athlete affect your academics?
He responded that balancing golf and academics is a challenge, but at the same time it is a tremendous asset for developing time management skills. The life of the college athlete requires making every second count.
The paths Mario and Matt took to earn their spots on the Bryant golf team were both unique and challenging. After interviewing these two athletes, I could see that the hardest part of being on a Division I team is not making the team; it is learning to balance all the demands of college life, without losing sight of their ultimate goals. Both want to do their best, as students, as well as athletes, and will do whatever they can to prepare themselves for whatever the next step may be.