North Texas Daily

Mean Green football walk-on program thrives under McCarney

Mean Green football walk-on program thrives under McCarney

Mean Green football walk-on program thrives under McCarney
September 05
11:23 2013

Brett Medeiros / Senior Staff Writer

With its new stadium and a new conference to call home, UNT is a steadily growing football program beginning to make some noise.

One reason for the  is the success of its walk-on program, where players enroll in the school to play their way onto the team rather than being given a full ride with a scholarship. This year, the program has 26 walk-on players, including seven that are brand new to the team.

“We have 60 or 70 guys walk into our offices wondering about walking on to the program. The word is out there that you can get an opportunity here at UNT,” head coach Dan McCarney said. “I have seen so many great success stories through the years and we will continue that here. It will always be a real important part of this program.”

Kaydon Kirby

In 2012, walk-on Kayden Kirby made the team and is now the newest addition to an experienced Mean Green offensive line that gave up a best-in-the-nation six sacks last season.

“Even though I got [the first] start, there’s always room to improve,” Kirby said. “But it certainly was something to get the feeling of playing on this stage started. I feel honored to be on this offensive line and have this opportunity.”

Because of the massive number of high school athletes, talented players can fall through the cracks of the collegiate scouting process. The walk-on program allows an opportunity to players who feel they’re good enough to play at the Division-I level. Players can earn their way to the team and even earn a scholarship.

“As an athletic director, those are the kind of young people that you are looking for,” Athletic Director Rick Villarreal said. “Those players don’t take the answer that they can’t perform at a certain level as being good enough. The walk-on program here says that we are open to young men coming to this program and having an opportunity to prove themselves.”

Junior free safety Sheldon Wade didn’t play football until his senior year of high school, so teams were not able to get a look at him. Because of that, he first enrolled at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

Sheldon Wade

“I was a starter there for two years and I really wanted to do something bigger and better,” Wade said. “I decided to come here to UNT. They showed a lot of interest, so I came in as a walk-on and it’s been really working out.”

Senior wide receiver Darnell Smith is another player from the Mean Green that has made an impact on the field as a walk-on.

“As walk-ons, we weren’t brought here. We had to earn our respect and start at the bottom to get to the top,” Smith said. “At the same time, we are a team and a family, but we also have this bond as a walk-on family because we are all at one point in the same situation.”

Smith attended junior college at Ellsworth Community College in Iowa Falls, Iowa, and earned a scholarship prior the 2012 season. Smith started at wide receiver in the Mean Green season opener and caught four passes.

“It means a lot to be a walk-on because you’re fighting for something every day,” Wade said. “I think it is a great thing that coach McCarney gives walk-ons such a great opportunity. I’ve been other places where walk-ons didn’t get the same chances as other players do.”

Feature photo by Ryan Vance / Intern 

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