Dabo Swinney is all too familiar with the journey a walk-on athlete endures.
Swinney reminisced on Wednesday about his own personal journey as a walk-on at Alabama. Heading into his sophomore season, the Crimson Tide had a new coaching staff, and as a walk-on, Swinney found himself back at the bottom of the pecking order, despite having seen playing time the year prior.
While he laced his words with humor, even after thirty-two years, he still remembers.
“I didn’t even get a rep in the spring game and I was so mad,” Swinney told the media. “I was young and immature and angry and mad. And you know, my mom’s there, my grandmother’s there and I didn’t even get in the spring game.”
“That’s why to this day, somebody is getting fired if everybody doesn’t get in the spring game. All right, everybody’s getting in that spring game.”
Hyperbolic but that’s how Clemson’s head coach thinks.
It’s in Swinney’s nature to always accentuate the positive and he did that well, always getting that laugh. However, one needs to look only a few layers down, below the surface and there lies the reason he has embraced, championed and values his walk-ons. He knows their thankless struggles. He’s already walked in their shoes.
Whether a player is on scholarship or a walk-on, in Swinney’s program they’re all treated the same. Same access to the training, the nutrition and the weight room, it’s theirs. That’s special, just like they are.
For every Hunter Renfrow and Greg Huegel there are many more young men that will never climb that athletic ladder of success. It’s a tough reality that those walk-ons understand. Based on their talent and athleticism, and even with their huge heart and efforts, there is little chance that many will ever see the field during a regular season game. This might be the greatest virtue of Swinney’s walk-on philosophy, in the spring game, the opportunity exists for all.
As a young fan, a student and yes, even as a middle aged man, I’d give almost anything to, just once, experience running down the Hill on game day. It’s said some people would do almost anything for 15 minutes of fame. Thankfully, through the pain of his experience some thirty-two years ago, Swinney gives them that opportunity. Yet another reason to admire, respect and yes, love the head coach.
So, when you’re watching the spring game on Saturday, pay special attention to those players whose names few know and think, somewhere on Frank Howard Field, in Death Valley, each will each get their moment, or else “somebody’s gonna get fired.” I know and so do you, nobody is getting fired. It’s just Dabo being Dabo.
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