Football coaches are a funny lot. They see a big-bodied guy or a sleek-looking fellow on campus, in the parking lot, at the grocery story, and they wonder. Did he play? Can he still play? What’s his deal, his story, his eligibility?
“I’m always walking around looking at big people,” said Sacramento State assistant head coach Kris Richardson, himself a big man at 6-foot-6. “The hunt is always on.”
The hunt hit home for the Hornets on Thursday in a tryout for 13 Sac State students who wanted to earn a walk-on roster spot.
Sac State coaches – in their first bit of outdoor coaching, evaluation and supervision for 2019 – studied the prospects in shorts and T-shirts. The students engaged in drills to gauge timing, agility and endurance.
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New head coach Troy Taylor offered up the opportunity. Nothing was promised beyond an opportunity.
Sac State coaches want to add player depth for the four-week spring drills that start later this March and then the exhaustive summer camp that starts at the end of July. In particular, Sac State seeks additional skill players – receivers, running backs, cornerbacks, safeties – as daily drills with four or five receivers require at least that many guys to cover them.
“We need legs for this offense, even in practice,” Hornets quarterback coach Bobby Fresques said.
And this is football, and what’s football without fun?
The workout Thursday was conducted in fewer than 30 minutes. Everything was checked off with the school’s compliance office, including how to promote it, how long the athletes can work out and if coaches can even talk about any of them (they cannot until one becomes an official member of the team).
Of course, this all means those trying out had to at least be a student.
“One guy who was interested wasn’t even enrolled,” Fresques said with a laugh. “That’s a start. We checked all these guys out. They all played high school ball. They all had high school film. We want to work them out, and the last one standing makes it.
“OK, it’s not that bad.”
Said Taylor, in good spirits, “Capes aren’t required out here to try out, but it could be encouraged. Anyone with a superhero look will catch our eye. This is a chance to add some bodies, but they can’t just be athletes. They have to be good students, good people.”
Sac State aims to keep four players from the collection that came out Thursday. Motivation was not an issue. Everyone hustled, everyone paid attention. Every last one of them wants to play some more downs, be it in practice or games.
“It’s a dream come true for these guys, really,” Hornets defensive backs coach Sam Cole said.
Travis Warren was spent after his workout. The freshman from Auburn competed on his Placer High School football team as a receiver and was recommended by Hillmen coach Joey Montoya to the Hornets coaches as a skilled, hard-working contributor.
For the workout, Warren wore a yellow Sac State orientation shirt, black Hillmen pride shorts and white cleats. His expression was one of optimism.
“I came in, gave it 100 percent,” Warren said. “To get an opportunity like this, it’s generous of the coaches. It’s exciting.”
Walk-ons are often the heart and soul of a college football program. They’re easy to root for, to pull for. They’re practice bodies needed to keep the regulars sharp.
Sometimes walk-ons see game time, and sometimes they earn scholarships. And it’s happened at Sac State.
Jason Smith was a Sac State freshman in 2006, out of Brentwood. He worked out for the Hornets in 2007 as a walk-on hopeful, impressed coach Marshall Sperbeck and emerged as a three-year starter at quarterback.
“You never know what you might find,” Taylor said.