Football walk-ons overcome financial struggles for scholarships
ASU redshirt junior linebacker Grandville Taylor's mother, Tracye, often cried herself to sleep trying to figure out if it was financially possible to keep her son in school.
Grandville is a member of the ASU football team, but as a walk-on, he was not entitled to the same benefits as his scholarship teammates. A Division I scholarship covers a players tuition, room, board and allows them to eat at the team's training table.
Meanwhile, Grandville had to pay for all of those privileges himself and often came up short, unable to scrap together the cash necessary to eat.
“I was struggling to eat every day,” Grandville said. “At times I had lost a lot of weight, especially during our summer workouts because we were working out a lot, intensely. I would have to skip a few meals.”
Despite Grandville's struggles, the California native always kept an upbeat attitude. He hoped the future, with hard work, would be more promising than the present. With an unassuming personality and a beaming smile, he showed up to practice day after day and earned Hard Hat player recognition for his work in the offseason.
“Come to summer training and (he) is among the first guys there and the last guys to leave,” redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Magee said. “(He) is always working out, always in the film room.”
While Grandville did receive some reps at linebacker, he spent the majority of the 2010 and 2011 seasons on special teams and accumulated five total tackles.
The financial burden was rough on the entire family, but Tracye considered dropping out of grad school at San Francisco State University to support her son. Grandville had the support of the entire Taylor family and was determined to persevere and make his situation work.
“It was really hard, stressful,” Tracye said. “Me, his aunt and my parents did everything we could do to keep him in school. We came together as a family.”
However, in late August, coach Todd Graham awarded Grandville with something he had been working for since his arrival in Tempe three years ago — an athletic scholarship. Suddenly, the phone calls home, along with Tracye's tears, had a different tone. The Taylors would no longer stress about keeping Grandville in school and Tracye's tears were now the result of happiness, relief and pride.
“It felt like a dream come true,” Grandville said. “I prayed about it every night, not that I would earn a scholarship, but that my hard work would get noticed. Every day, I thank coach Graham and the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity.”
Since Graham took over as the ASU coach in December, he has awarded scholarships to three different players — redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Johnson and redshirt junior wide receiver Kevin Ozier are the other two.
“Our message is here in this Valley, if you want to walk-on and earn a scholarship, Arizona State is the place to be,” Graham said.
Although Taylor, Johnson and Ozier are now all on scholarships, the struggles at the beginnings of their careers were similar as the life of a walk-on is never easy.
During Ozier's freshman season he spent a few nights in his car and had no permanent address, according to the Arizona Republic.
Johnson's father had been paying for his schooling, but passed away a year ago. Johnson feels he would have been able to pay for school without the scholarship, but admits it would have been troublesome. Now, as a scholarship athlete, Johnson can worry about playing football without enduring the pitfalls of being a walk on.
“This makes everything a lot easier so I can just focus on football,” Johnson said.
However, Johnson still excels in school, as he is a member of the Pac-12's All-Academic team with a 3.44 GPA.
Since walking onto a football team carries a more difficult path than that of a scholarship player, a walk-on has to have the right mindset.
Walk-on successes are few and far between. The typical walk-on joins a team, practices for a few months or maybe even a season before he quits. However, there are exceptions — athletes who defy the odds and not only earn scholarships, but go on to professional careers as well.
Former NFL player Adam Archuleta joined the ASU football team as a walk-on in 1996 and finished his career in Tempe as the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2000.
To save money Archuleta lived at home rather than in the dorms with his teammates during his freshman season. While this setback may have cost Archuleta some collegiate memories, it was practically the only part of his career that suffered from not beginning with a scholarship.
Mentally, Archuleta knew what his ultimate goal was and scholarship or not he approached football with a workman's attitude.
“It was always my goal to play in the NFL so I just looked at my situation, coming to ASU, as an opportunity to prove myself and show what I had,” Archuleta said. “My primary motivation was to get as good as I could get and to a) earn a scholarship, b) become a starter, c) become a good football player and d) make it to the National Football League.”
Unlike Archuleta, Grandville thought his playing days were over after his stardom at George Washington High School in San Francisco.
Grandville had heard good things about ASU so he enrolled simply as a student. However, after a bit of contemplation, his passion for football was reignited and he chose to walk on to the team.
In 11 games this season, Grandville has accumulated 10 total tackles.
In addition to fulfilling his love for and desire to play football, Grandville played to set an example for his siblings.
“I have three younger brothers, one is 12 and I have twin younger brothers that just turned nine,” Grandville said. “In a way I'm their role model, their father figure, their older brother and so much more. I try to live my life as a message to them to show them anything is possible and they can achieve anything they put their mind to."
All in all, Grandville has 11 brothers and sisters that help to motivate him, as he wants to provide his entire family with a person they can be proud of.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org