Alabama Walk-Ons join college football roster

Only three years old, stories like Giles Amos’s seem odd in today’s college football world.

Amos, the former Alabama tight end nicknamed “Trailer Park Jesus,” spent three years practicing behind the scenes as a walk-on before earning a scholarship for his senior season in 2019. He would otherwise have been one of a dozen senior walk-ons for the flood this year, most ending their time in Tuscaloosa with a handful of snaps and no official stats.

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Times have changed for college football and for Alabama’s walk-ons.

Of the 129 players listed on Alabama’s roster for the Jan. 10 national championship game against Georgia, only 82 players remain. The 47-player difference includes 12 players who are now on the NFL rosters and 13 grantees who have already been transferred or are still on the transfer portal. Among those 47 departures, however, less is spoken about 11 walk-ons known to have entered the portal since last season.

For some of those walk-ons, better opportunities to play time arose elsewhere.

Such was the case with cornerback Brylan Lanier, a Tuscaloosa native who originally signed with Georgia State out of high school but instead joined Alabama last season as a preferred walk-on. He joined the transfer portal after the season but stayed with Alabama this spring, posting training clips on his Twitter account. At the end of April he received a scholarship offer from Indiana committed to the Hoosiers last week.

Lanier will be joined next season by two other players who spent last season as Alabama walk-ons and are now on FBS programs.

WMU soccer game in spring

Western Michigan Broncos running back Trae Allen (32) blocks Western Michigan Broncos defenseman Andre Carter (1) from sacking Western Michigan Broncos quarterback Stone Hollenbach (14) during the third quarter of the Western Michigan University spring football game at Seelye Athletic Center in Kalamazoo on Saturday , March 26, 2022. (Daniel Shular | MLive.com)Daniel Shular | MLive.com

Quarterback Stone Hollenbach, a Pennsylvania native who came to Tide because of offers from nearby FCS teams, hasn’t seen game time in three seasons. Now he’s applying for an entry-level job at Western Michigan. Defensive lineman Keelan Cox didn’t play football until he was a senior in high school in Texas. Rather than accept one of FCS’ few offers, Cox played a season at junior college in 2020 before joining Alabama as a walk-on in 2021. He entered the transfer portal and signed on April 30 to play in Wyoming.

“When ‘Bama knocks on the door, a lot of people’s eyes widen,” Cox told the Casper Star Tribune. “I wanted to see where I stand as a footballer, where I stand as a person. Everyone said to me, ‘You’re not going to play.’ I do not care. I went down there and risked it myself and it changed my life.”

Two other Alabama walk-ons from last season have found new homes with FCS programs. That includes former Phenix City wide receiver DJ Rias, who is relocating to Samford, with his new school using practice materials from Alabama since last September make the announcement in February. Offensive lineman Donovan Hardin, who decided to continue running in Alabama after playing high school football in Ohio, did not play with Tide for two years. “But with my Covid year and redshirt, I still have 4 years of eligibility, so I decided to enter the transfer portal,” Hardin said wrote on Twitter early February. He later signed on to play at Long Island University under new head coach Ron Cooper, who spent last season as an analyst at Alabama.

For Hardin and Rias, they will trade the long opportunity to play in an SEC stadium for a 6,000-seat venue at the opposite end of the Division I football spectrum.

Such moves are not entirely new to college football or Alabama.

Walk-ons can move to another location with immediate play eligibility since an NCAA rule change in April 2019. Previously, walk-ons had to sit out a year when transferring unless they received an NCAA waiver or were “unrecruited” at their previous school. This allowed former Alabama walk-on quarterback Luke Del Rio to play immediately at Oregon State after his 2014 transfer, and brought back Derrick Gore to play at Louisiana-Monroe in 2017 after two seasons as a walk-on at Alabama .

But not all walk-ons have had that freedom, notably eventual Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who was forced to sit out the 2014 season as an Oklahoma walk-on after transferring from Texas Tech and being denied NCAA exoneration.

In the first summer after the NCAA’s 2019 rule change, wide receiver Chris Herring (FAU), wide receiver Dalton Adkison (Troy) and defensive back Brandon Bishop (Louisiana) moved from Alabama, with Bishop later receiving a scholarship. There was little movement during the COVID-cloudy 2020 offseason, but 2021 saw several more walk-ons head elsewhere, as running back AJ Gates (UAB), quarterback Jayden George (Bowling Green), defensive back DJ Douglas (Tulane) and wide Receiver Joshua Lanier (Jackson State) and defenseman LT Ikner (Mississippi College Division II).

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Alabama punter Sam Johnson (98) during a game against Georgia on October 17, 2020 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa. (Alabama Athletics)Crimson Tide Photos/UA Athletics

This year, not all Alabama walk-ons that entered the portal found new schools or continued playing at all. Long Snapper Carter Short, a freshman last season, is promoting himself as “Transfer Portal Longsnapper” on twitter. Oak Mountain’s Sam Johnson, who jabbed for Alabama at the start of the 2020 season but not at all last season, made the announcement a twitter post In early March that he entered the transfer portal. Not yet landed at a new school, Johnson announced on Monday an exercise video of him as the “Transfer Portal Punter” working with Instructor Mike McCabe.

Johnson wasn’t the only punter from Alabama to enter the portal this offseason. Ty Perine, who stabbed in several games for the Tide towards the end of the 2019 season but has not played for the past two seasons, put his name on the portal in late January. Less than two weeks later, Perine removed his name from the portal and retired. Another walk-on from Alabama, quarterback Braxton Barker, entered the portal after last season but then decided to return to the team’s coaching staff as an offensive graduate assistant.

Additionally, former Hoover offensive lineman Alajujuan Sparks signed last month to join Division II Valdosta State after two seasons with The Tide, and defenseman Jordan Tate-Parker is also at the helm to the state of Valdosta after spending time as a walk-on in Alabama last year.

The double-digit number of Alabama walk-ons was joined by thousands of other FBS program grantees in the transfer portal this offseason. The sharp surge in roster movements this offseason after the NCAA relaxed its grantee transfer rules last year has a trickle-down effect that walk-ons leaving Alabama can benefit from. Indiana, which added Brylan Lanier, had lost 27 players to the portal and gained just 13 as of early last week. Kansas, which offered Cox a scholarship before settling on Wyoming, has about a dozen untapped scholarships after losing numbers to the portal over the past two offseasons.

Being able to see the field elsewhere is part of what attracts Alabama walk-ons elsewhere, especially for favored walk-ons who, despite scholarship offers, have jumped at the chance to join the tide. Many voice their dream of playing in Alabama when choosing to attend, but for every story of a player who earns game time or a stipend as walk-in customers, there are dozens who don’t.

According to the team’s official roster, Barker was the only non-specialist to see action in a game last season, throwing a late pass in a thumping win over New Mexico State. A year earlier, four walk-ons were recorded, all of which played minimally in George, Douglas, Joshua Lanier and Melvin Billingsley.

It’s been a few years since players like Amos, who played in nine games in 2019 after receiving a scholarship, or DJ Lewis, who played in 11 games in 2018 after receiving his scholarship, went from walk-ons to contributors. It’s been even longer since Levi Wallace went from walk-on to later starter on Alabama’s 2017 National Championship team, with another former walk-on in linebacker Jamey Mosley being part of that group.

Amos, who spent the 2020 season as a grad transfer at Arkansas State, found a sense of fulfillment as he waited his turn at Alabama.

“Competition is healthy and I think in a culture that we’re in today, some people like to run away from competition,” he told WMAZ last year. “Everyone wants someone who fights instead of running. I just tell people you have to stick with it. it’s gonna be tough It will not be easy. Nothing valuable is.”

Even as Alabama is leaving an increasing number of walk-ons — and grantees — in search of game time, some seem content to stay. Sam Reed and Joshua Robinson, walk-backs for Mountain Brook and Hoover respectively, were honored on last season’s Senior Day after never playing in a game. They were joined by linebacker Matthew Barnhill, who never played before graduating in 2021 but has SEC and college football playoff title rings to keep forever.

“These rings will serve not only as an enduring reminder of the high level of success this team has been able to achieve,” he told KWTX last year, “but also as a physical representation of every hour spent training, training and all that hard back-breaking.” a lot of work went into the wings to make our run at a championship a reality.”

Mike Rodak is an Alabama beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @micerodak.

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