25 Greatest Walk-Ons of the BCS Era
College football recruiting has become more of a science than an art, and the blue chips are followed almost as closely as A-list celebrities. However, there are some major surprises throughout BCS history coming from players who weren't good enough to merit an offer.
Some are in the NFL, some are announcers and others on this list are still in college. The ones that are still around obviously have the opportunity to push themselves further up the list, but time is running out.
For this list, players who walked on before the BCS era but played during at least the 1998 season were considered. Players were chosen based on All-American selection(s), All-Conference selection(s), major awards won and draft status.
As the NFL draft is essentially the final exam, points were awarded based on how highly those players were drafted. As you will see later in the slideshow, a great college performance with a draft snub could still earn you a top-tier spot here.
Enjoy, and feel free to leave your nominees in the comments section.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Rodriguez, Clemson Tigers
Daniel Rodriguez has one of the most awesome stories in college football today. He walked on at Clemson last season, and he's aspiring to be the best he can be on the gridiron.
Rodriguez caught only three passes for 10 yards last season, but it was also his rookie year. Ultimately, he is a great role model and perfect example of not just chasing, but catching one's dream.
Honorable mention goes to the wide receiver for the Clemson Tigers.
25. Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Sean Bedford was an All-ACC center for Georgia Tech back in 2009. He was integral to the Yellow Jackets' ACC title that year.
He took home the first Burlsworth Trophy in 2010 which is awarded to the most exemplary player to have started his career without a scholarship.
Bedford was a shining example of what college football should be. He majored in aerospace engineering, so he essentially graduated as a rocket scientist.
24. Patrick Edwards, Houston Cougars
Patrick Edwards was a two-time All-Conference USA selection as a wide receiver for the Houston Cougars. He started as a walk-on in 2008, and he capped his career off with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
His career total was 202 receptions for 2,755 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was a stellar receiver, and the Detroit Lions signed him out of free agency back in 2012.
23. Chad Spann, Northern Illinois Huskies
Chad Spann was a tailback for the Northern Illinois Huskies through the 2010 season. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent in 2011 after earning First-Team All-Mid-American Conference honors in both his junior and senior seasons.
Overall, Spann had 536 carries for 2,916 yards and 49 touchdowns. He added 23 receptions for 198 yards and another score during his stint with the Huskies. Spann set a single-season record for points scored with his 22-touchdown performance in 2010.
Not too shabby for a guy that theoretically wasn't worth a scholarship.
22. Clay Matthews, USC Trojans
Clay Matthews was a late bloomer, to say the least. He walked on at USC, and he spent his entire career not getting on All-America or All-Pac-12 teams. He didn't win many awards, but he opened some eyes with his progress throughout his tenure with the Trojans.
When the dust settled from his final season, the NFL had figured out what he was, and he went to the Green Bay Packers with the 26th overall pick in the 2009 draft.
If NFL production had anything at all to do with this list, Matthews would be at the top, and the competition wouldn't even be close.
21. Owen Schmitt, West Virginia Mountaineers
Owen Schmitt was a fullback for West Virginia from 2005-2007. He carried the ball 160 times for 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns, and he snagged 32 passes for 288 yards and another two scores while with the Mountaineers.
He was a second-string selection to the Scout.com All-America Team in 2006, but his stats are fairly disappointing for an All-American. That's mainly because knockdown blocks aren't a well-kept stat in college football circles.
Schmitt has more bent facemasks lying around the country than most tight ends have touchdowns. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL draft.
20. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin Badgers
Jared Abbrederis is a beast, and let's just get one thing out of the way: Abbrederis is still in college, and he has a season left. His spot at No. 20 on this list is anything but final. He can move up as much as he wants to in 2013.
Abbrederis started his career off as a walk-on, and he quickly earned respect. In 2009, he took his redshirt, and by 2012, he was a consensus All-Big Ten selection. That was his second All-Conference honor, including his Freshman Team selection in 2010.
19. Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Brandon Weeden was one win short of taking Oklahoma State to the national championship game in 2011, which is a feat worthy of this list by itself. He also hoisted himself into the first round of the 2012 draft. He was selected No. 22 overall by the Cleveland Browns.
In 2010, he showed flashes of his future brilliance, and he earned a spot on the All-Big 12 Team as his reward. (Not to mention a school-record 11 wins that year.)
Weeden went from walk-on to first-round pick in a matter of a few seasons, and he took Oklahoma State to heights it had never seen before. Not a bad deal for the Cowboys.
18. Ryan Winterswyk, Boise State Broncos
Ryan Winterswyk was a major part of the 2009 Boise State Broncos. The Broncos finished the season 14-0 with signature wins over No. 16 Oregon and No. 4 TCU (Fiesta Bowl).
Wynterswyk tallied 41 tackles (18 solo), 17 tackles for loss, nine sacks, one pass breakup, six quarterback hurries and one blocked kick that season. He was named First-Team All-WAC for the second season in a row following that performance.
He was signed as a free agent following the 2010 NFL draft.
17. Jordan Kovacs, Michigan Wolverines
Jordan Kovacs was the 15th player in Michigan history to collect 300 tackles in a career. His final marks were: 334 tackles (193 solo), 26 tackles for loss, seven sacks, six forced fumbles (two recovered), four pass breakups and five interceptions.
He was All-Big Ten honorable mention twice, and he finally made the second string in his last season (2012). After earning his way to the top from walk-on status, He will attempt to repeat that feat in the NFL. He was picked up as an undrafted free agent following the 2013 cycle.
16. Logan Mankins, Fresno State Bulldogs
Logan Mankins anchored the offensive line for the Fresno State Bulldogs in 2001 and 2002. He missed 2003 with an injury, but that didn't hinder him from coming back and earning All-WAC honors in his final season.
He was also an All-American in 2004, and he ended his career as the 32nd pick of the first round of the 2005 draft.
15. Spencer Long, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Spencer Long is the anchor of Nebraska's offense. He is highly decorated, with two appearances on All-Conference Teams and one slot on the All-America Team. He was one of 10 finalists for the Burlsworth Trophy last season, and fans should expect to see him back on that list in 2013.
Nebraska may have some questions entering Long's final season, but the offensive line is not one of them. Long is one of the best linemen in Cornhuskers history, and the fact that he's a walk-on just makes it that much more impressive.
14. Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State Cowboys
13. Daryl Washington, TCU Horned Frogs
Daryl Washington walked on at TCU, and he consistently built himself into a phenom each season. His best season, by far, was the 2009 run.
He was an All-MWC and All-American that season, and he worked his way up to the top half of the second round of the 2010 draft.
Washington amassed 109 tackles (68 solo), 11 tackles for loss, two sacks, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry and three interceptions (one pick-six) as a linebacker for the Horned Frogs.
Washington was excellent in his final audition for the pros.
12. Jordy Nelson, Kansas State Wildcats
Jordy Nelson walked on at Kansas State and redshirted in 2003. He did not play in 2004, and he was tabbed for defense. In 2005, Bill Snyder moved him to offense, and he began to grow quickly.
Just two short seasons later (2007), Nelson was an All-American with his sights on the NFL. As it turned out, the pro scouts had their eyes on him as well. Nelson was selected in the second round of the 2008 draft (No. 36 overall).
11. Adam Archuleta, Arizona State Sun Devils
Adam Archuleta was a two-time First-Team All-Pac-10 linebacker for the Arizona State Sun Devils. Archuleta finished his career with over 200 tackles, 39 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered and an interception.
Archuleta worked his butt off in order to make the most of the opportunity that the Sun Devils gave him. After a few short seasons, he turned all that hard work into a first-round selection. He was chosen No. 20 overall in the 2009 NFL draft.
10. Rashad Johnson, Alabama Crimson Tide
Johnson's situation was not that well-orchestrated. He walked on at Alabama in 2004, and he ended up being one of the leaders that took the Tide to a near national championship in 2008.
Johnson earned a starting safety slot during the offseason between 2006 and 2007, which was when Saban took the reins. Johnson quickly earned back-to-back All-SEC honors (2007 and 2008) and a spot on the All-America Team in 2008.
Johnson capped his college career off as a third-round selection in the 2009 draft.
9. Colt Brennan, Hawaii Warriors
Colt Brennan, the quarterback from Hawaii, set record upon record in the NCAA. The most impressive one is his mark for consecutive games with 200 or more passing yards. He set that mark at 34, and he played only 38 games for the Warriors.
He had a career completion percentage over 70, and he was an All-American once and an All-MWC selection twice. Brennan capped his college days off as a sixth-round pick in the 2008 NFL draft.
8. Mike Hass, Oregon State Beavers
Mike Hass should be ranked higher than No. 9, but the NFL totally skipped over him during the 2006 NFL draft. He ended up being selected in Round 6, which was far too low for the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner.
Hass caught 220 passes in his career as a wide receiver for 3,924 yards and 20 touchdowns. The most impressive feature of his stat sheet is that he had over 1,000 receiving yards in each of his three seasons.
That would be impressive for any scholarship player, but Hass started as a walk-on.
7. J.J. Watt, Wisconsin Badgers
J.J. Watt was such an unbelievable defensive lineman that it's difficult to grasp his walk-on status. During his final season (2010), he was an All-Big Ten and All-American team member. He also won the 2010 Lott IMPACT Trophy.
That was due to his astonishing 61 tackles (42 solo), 20.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, seven pass breakups, 10 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, one interception and three blocked kicks. He was a bulldozer.
He left Wisconsin with one year of eligibility left, but nobody can rightfully blame him. He was selected No. 11 overall in the 2011 draft. Staying one more season would have brought much more risk than reward.
6. Ezekiel Ansah, BYU Cougars
Ezekiel Ansah chose to attend BYU with basketball on his mind. That didn't work out, so he walked on to the track team in 2009. When the calendar switched over to 2010, he was a walk-on for the football team.
He hadn't played American football at all prior to 2010, which makes his accomplishments extremely impressive (but it did not give him any bonus points).
Ansah was the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. He accomplished this by being one of the best linebackers in the country, just three years after first learning how to play.
Ansah totaled 62 tackles (35 solo), 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, nine pass breakups, six quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one interception all in 2012. If he had picked up football as a freshman, who knows what could have been?
5. Dennis Pitta, BYU Cougars
Dennis Pitta was a tight end for the BYU Cougars between 2003 and 2010. (He took two years off for his mission trip, which accounts for the "extra" time.)
Pitta was a three-time First-Team All-MWC selection, and he earned s spot on one All-America Team as well. That's insanely good for a walk-on that took two years away from the game. He also set the NCAA record for receiving yards in a career by a tight end at 2,901.
When draft weekend rolled around, he was picked up in Round 4.
4. Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin Badgers
Jim Leonhard walked on at Wisconsin in 2002. He played for three seasons and left for the 2005 NFL draft immediately after the 2004 college season. During those three seasons, Leonhard was an All-American and All-Big Ten selection in both 2003 and 2004.
Even after all these eye-popping skills (like 21 career interceptions) he was showing off week-in and week-out, the draft was not kind to him. After the 2005 cycle ended, he was signed as a free agent.
3. Santana Moss, Miami Hurricanes
In 2000, his senior season, Santana Moss became the first player ever to win both the Big East Special Teams and Offensive Player of the Year awards. He earned All-Big East Team slots in both his sophomore and junior years, and he was an All-American in 2000.
Through his three-year career, Moss caught 143 passes for 2,546 yards and 19 touchdowns. He also returned 77 punts for 1,196 yards and six touchdowns. Moss turned in some pretty impressive stats, and he was rewarded handsomely.
He was drafted as the 16th overall pick of the 2001 class.
2. Levi Jones, Arizona State Sun Devils
Levi Jones led the Arizona State offensive front from 1997-2001, and he jumped from walk-on scrub to elite offensive lineman in just four seasons. Jones earned back-to-back All-Pac-10 honors in 2000 and 2001, and he ripped off an All-American season in 2001.
Jones may have started as a walk-on, but he finished as the No. 10 pick of the 2002 NFL draft. There is only one player on this list to have been drafted higher than that, and he has already been covered (Ezekiel Ansah).
1. Brandon Burlsworth, Arkansas Razorbacks
Brandon Burlsworth walked on at Arkansas, and he was a brick wall at offensive tackle. He went back-to-back as an All-SEC player in 1997 and 1998, and he was an All-American in 1998, the first year of the BCS.
Burlsworth barely made the cut to be included in the BCS era, but it would have been a crime to omit an all-world behemoth who completed his master's degree before his final collegiate game.
The Burlsworth Trophy, awarded to the FBS's best player to have started as a walk-on, is named for this role model. That is his trump card, and it puts him at the top of the list.
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