Walk-ons vital to football program
By Stephen Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
On his first day as a non-scholarship University of Hawai'i football player in 1978, Larry Goeas remembered, "I thought a 'walk-on' meant the (players on scholarship) walked on you."
"You knew where you stood," Goeas said of the difference between being a player on scholarship and a walk-on. "You were at the bottom. You knew at the first practice you were a human dummy. I guess it was cheaper to use us than buy blocking sleds."
Still, Goeas showed enough skill in practice to eventually earn a scholarship. For many, Goeas said, joining the program as a walk-on "is the only way to get a shot."
Twenty-three years later, non-scholarship players remain a vital role in the UH football program. Of this year's 24 projected starters, 10 joined the team as walk-ons, including the entire defensive secondary.
"Walk-ons are an important part of the team," UH coach June Jones said. "We wish we could have more of them."
There is a limit to what is free, and while walk-ons cost the school nothing more than uniforms, equipment and locker-room space, they are a factor in the gender-equity equation. To balance the ratio of male and female athletes, UH has imposed a roster limit of 108 in football. With 85 players on scholarship, there is room for 23 walk-ons a sizeable amount, but less than half the number allowed a decade ago.
"It's too bad that everybody who wants to play isn't allowed to play," Jones said. "It's hard on us, because this affects people's lives."
"If we had these limits 20 years ago, I wouldn't have made the team," said assistant coach Rich Miano, a former UH walk-on who played 11 years in the National Football League.
Miano said about 10 first-year walk-ons have been invited to compete in training camp, which begins next week. To clear roster space, several walk-ons who competed in spring practice were not asked to return. One of them, cornerback Saffery Silva, drew raves in spring drills.
"It's been hard to tell them we don't have any room," said Miano, who coordinates the walk-on program. "They're good people. They're doing well in the classroom. They know the situation, but it still hurts us to tell them. They understand, but at the same time we know we're taking away their dream, and that's not an easy thing to do."
Miano said walk-on candidates must initiate contact with the UH coaches. The coaches will then evaluate videotapes and speak with the player's coach. "We can't promise them anything, but we tell them if they work hard they have a chance to contribute and maybe earn a scholarship one day," Miano said.
Miano said there are more opportunities for a non-scholarship player in spring practice because the previous season's seniors do not participate and the majority of recruits do not report until the summer. Hyrum Peters, who joined UH as a walk-on in the spring of 1999, is now a starting cornerback. He earned a scholarship last year.
"Hyrum is a great example of the benefits of hard work," Miano said.
Players on current roster who entered UH as walk-ons:
Tui Ala, running back; Keani Alapa, linebacker; Alapai Andrews, offensive lineman; Dan Berryman, receiver; Ikaika Blackburn, linebacker; Lyle Castro, center; Brett Clowers, defensive end; Joe Correia, linebacker; Josiah Cravalho, cornerback; Kanale George, receiver; David Gilmore, safety; Neal Gossett, receiver; Jacob Espiau, safety; Patrick Lavar Harley, safety; Wayne Hunter, defensive lineman; Nate Jackson, safety; Jonathan Kauka, running back; Britton Komine, slotback; Kalae Lee, tackle; Ashley Lelie, receiver; Bronson Liana, linebacker; Steven Mahelona, running back; Mat McBriar, punter; Thero Mitchell, running back; Kenoche Mostella, receiver; Kilinahe Noa, linebacker; Chad Owens, receiver; Hyrum Peters, cornerback; Chris Riccardi, safety; Ryan Richards, receiver; Isaac Rodrigues, receiver; Brian Smith, center; Viliami Taufa, linebacker; Tafiti Uso, receiver; Colin Wills, defensive line; Gary Wright, cornerback.