The Penn State Nittany Lions had a successful first year dealing with NCAA sanctions, but things will only get more difficult in coming years as scholarship restrictions come into play. It's for that reason that non-scholarship players will be important to future success.
Walk-on is the term used in college football to describe a player who doesn't have a scholarship. However, things are a bit different at Penn state.
Head coach Bill O'Brien prefers to use the term "run-on" to describe the non-scholarship players. According to Bob Flounders of PennLive.com, O'Brien said,
"These guys don't walk, they run on the field, they sprint on the field, they bust their butts on the field. These guys are not walk-ons, they are run-ons. Now I know that goes against everybody's term for non-scholarship players over the last 100 years of college football but that's our term for them."
While non-scholarship players are often not expected to be key contributors, that may not be the case at Penn State. Starting in 2014, the Nittany Lions will be limited to just 65 scholarship players, causing depth issues on the roster.
Injuries always creep up throughout a season, so having enough bodies in reserve is imperative.
Linebacker and quarterback are two positions that Penn State is already thin at heading into 2013. If injuries hit, freshmen and "run-ons" could be needed.
With the departure of Steven Bench, the Nittany Lions will have either Austin Whipple or D.J. Crook, both "run-ons", as the third string quarterback. Though it's rare a team gets that far down on the depth chart, those players need to be ready.
Recent history has shown that "run-ons" can shine at Penn State. Last season, quarterback Matt McGloin led the Big Ten in passing and was key to the Nittany Lions' success. McGloin started his career in Happy Valley without a scholarship.
There's no doubt that O'Brien is going to have to get creative with his roster moving forward. He's already hinted that some "run-ons" may be asked to play more than one position.
According to Audrey Snyder on PennLive.com, O'Brien is planning to have some guys play on both sides of the ball.
"They have their main position so maybe you’re going to be a corner but maybe if you can do some things as a slot receiver or as a running back or maybe you can run a few reverses? If you can throw the ball maybe we can toss it to you or something like that? … I definitely see that for us going forward."
While losing scholarships is tough for a team to overcome, it's not impossible. It just means that under-the-radar guys have to step up and every man on the roster will be needed to ensure success.
Current and future "run-ons" will be key to the Nittany Lions' ability to get through the lean years caused by the NCAA sanctions.