Anybody who has ever been a walk-on for a Division I football or basketball team will tell you that being likened to Rudy at least once during a four-year career is pretty much an inevitability. The general public hears the term "walk-on" and immediately thinks that anyone who couldn't earn a scholarship must have been told his entire life that he wasn't good enough, before he relentlessly annoyed coaches for a spot on the team and got life-changing advice from what has to be the wisest field maintenance guy to ever live.
Sadly, this image of a short, white walk-on caring more about the success of the team than all of his teammates combined is reinforced every March, when the guys wearing all their warm-ups on the end of the bench react to routine plays in the NCAA Tournament like tween girls at a Bieber concert. These douchers ruin it for the rest of us, as they cement a stereotype for all walk-ons that forever perpetuates the Rudy comparison. Well, you're never going to believe this, but not all walk-ons actually fit this description. I know, I know. It's hard to wrap your mind around the fact that there are sometimes exceptions to stereotypes, but you're just going to have to trust me with this one.
I was fully aware of the walk-on stereotype when I started my career at Ohio State, which is why I promised myself that I would do everything in my power to be an exception. Don't get me wrong, I think Rudy is full of all sorts of inspiration and is the second-best sports movie ever made. (I'm from Indiana and played basketball — I'll let you guess what I think the best sports movie of all time is.) But I've found that very few people make a Rudy comparison in a complimentary way. Instead, they seem to be saying, "I think it's adorable how you try really hard even though you suck balls and there's no way you'll ever get a chance to play." This is why, from day one, I tried to distance myself from the Rudy comparison by pulling pranks on superstar teammates, routinely falling asleep during film sessions, and basically spending every day with the team trying to figure out exactly how much I could get away with. And as it turned out, I could get away with a lot.
Whenever I reminisce with my friends and family about my four years of being a dickhead at Ohio State, they always seem to ask how exactly I was capable of getting away with some of the things I did. (Don't worry, we'll cover all of my shenanigans later.) After all, I was the bottom-feeder on the team who was supposed to just keep his mouth shut and stand on the sideline during practice until a coach told me to step in for a drill and essentially get sodomized in my role as human punching bag. You'd think that it would only take one screwup on my part for Coach Matta to send my ass packing, but instead he seemed to embrace me as the comedic relief for the team.
In the history of the walk-on–head coach relationship, this was unprecedented. Never had someone in my position been given the freedom I was given, which is why I felt a great responsibility to use this privilege to my advantage. Which brings us back to the original question: how did I go from being a math major basketball manager who knew only three people on campus to one of the loudest voices in the locker room of the number-one-ranked college basketball team in less than a month? The answer to that lies deeply buried in a story about drugs, prostitution, love, betrayal, organized crime in the 1920s, and one man's pursuit of the American Dream.
And by that I mean that the answer has nothing to do with any of those things. Sorry if I got your hopes up.
From Don't Put Me In, Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench by Mark Titus. Copyright 2012 by Mark Titus. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday.