by Blayne Fink–
John Engelberger, Cody Grimm, Will Montgomery, Sam Rogers—for some, those names are just that, names, but for Hokie fans, these are some of the most successful and impactful players to ever come through the Virginia Tech football program. However, what links these players is not just their success on the gridiron, but that they were all preferred walk-ons for the Hokies.
According to Recruiting-101, a preferred walk-on is a student athlete who has been noticed by a coach and are then offered a spot on a university’s athletic team, but who does not receive an athletic scholarship. With the glitz and glam of the recent National Signing Day still fresh in the minds of football fans, it begs the question: What is National Signing Day like for those preferred walk-ons?
“I kind of took part in it, but I just signed a blank piece of paper and got the pictures, that’s it,” said redshirt-junior wide receiver C.J. Carroll, a preferred walk-on for the Virginia Tech Hokies football team.
However, that’s not just it, it’s also the start of a long and trying process to ultimately earn that coveted scholarship and cement their name on the aforementioned list. Carroll, who was given a preferred walk-on spot in a signing class that featured highly touted players like Isaiah Ford and Travon McMillian, explains that his walk-on position requires playing with a different edge than that of scholarship athletes.
“You have to [play with an edge], there are very few of us out there that actually play, so once you get your opportunity, you have to make the most of it to try and earn a scholarship,” said Carroll. “As well as, to get the respect of other people who do have scholarships.”
Since joining the Hokies in the summer of 2014, Carroll has used that edge to work his way up in the team ranks, first, starting with the scout team and eventually becoming a key part of the Hokies offense and kick return game.
Carroll was also given the privilege of wearing the jersey number 25, awarded to the special team’s player of the week in honor of former head coach Frank Beamer, in the team’s game against Notre Dame. For Carroll, the opportunity had an even deeper meaning, as coach Beamer was always so giving to walk-ons like himself.
“It was crazy, that whole day was unbelievable,” said Carroll. “Notre Dame is a historic program and to wear that number 25 and play on national television…it was something that I won’t forget.”
As for the advice he would give to other players given a preferred walk-on spot?
“Work hard, earn the respect of players and coaches, and the rest will take care of itself,” said Carroll.
And that it did, just one day after the 2017 National Signing Day, Carroll was finally given his own, real, signing day when was awarded a scholarship by head football coach Justin Fuente.