The NCAA is considering another key rule change as we see it slowly turn into the NFL Lite. Discussions last week began about possibly reducing roster sizes to 85 players. While that is still significantly more than the 53-man rosters maintained by professional teams it would be a 15-30 player reduction to most college rosters. This would likely put an end to the era of the walk on player. Think about that for a minute, no more walk-ons. Can you imagine the world if we never had walk-on players? Sorry Notre Dame fans, there would have been no Rudy, so no film to keep you relevant after your team stopped winning National Championships in the late ‘80s. We at The OHIO Podcast would of course be saddened because if there were no Rudy, then we wouldn’t have “Ohio State’s Rudy”, our good friend Mike Wargo.

As if not getting to experience a Rudy story or having a relationship with Mike Wargo isn’t bad enough, let’s take a look at all the great walk-ons at Ohio State who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become great Buckeyes if it hadn’t been for their opportunity to join the team as a walk-on. 

First, we would miss out on one of the most iconic photos in Ohio State history. If there were no walk-ons, there would be no image of Zach Boren towering over a defeated and destroyed Dennard Robinson. Boren walked on as a fullback in 2009 before moving to linebacker and becoming a team captain for the Buckeyes in 2012.

Terry Glenn had one of the most dynamic seasons ever for a Buckeye receiver. In 1995, he had 57 catches for 1,316 yards, 23.1 yards per catch, and scored 17 receiving touchdowns. He was named a consensus All-American. Glenn went on to have a stellar 11 year playing career in the NFL making the All-Rookie Team in 1996, being selected to the Pro Bowl in 1999 (when the Pro Bowl still meant something) and becoming a Super Bowl Champion in 2001 with the New England Patriots. However, none of this ever happens if he doesn’t walk on at Ohio State in 1993.

The New England Patriots and walk on Buckeyes seem to go hand in hand. Nate Ebner was a rugby player turned walk on defensive back and special team’s beast for the Buckeyes 2009-2011. In 36 games with the Buckeyes, he amassed 30 tackles and 1 sack. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by the Patriots where he would spend eight of his ten years in the league. During his career in the NFL, he had 105 tackles, a forced fumble, and three fumble recoveries in route to three Super Bowl championships.   

Finally, it is time to discover everyone’s favorite Buckeye walk-on – Xavier Johnson. Johnson walked on at Ohio State in 2019. He played in 10 games that season all on special teams. He had one kick return of 19 yards, and 1 tackle that season. In 2020 he received four carries as a running back, and did well, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. 2019-2021 Johnson primarily played on special teams. In 2022, Johnson broke out during the Buckeyes home win versus Notre Dame with a key touchdown reception and became an instant fan favorite. Johnson went on to show his versatility and leadership through 2022-2023 playing multiple roles – running back, receiver, and special teams. Though never amassing huge numbers, Johnson was an integral part of his Buckeye teams, and despite not being drafted, this walk on turned his success into an invitation to the Buffalo Bills training camp for this upcoming season.

We are running head on into a new era of college football. NIL and the transfer portal are turning the game more into professional football than amateur athletics. I can reluctantly accept that. However, the thought of never again having walk-on players is saddening. There is nothing more inspirational than an underdog story, sadly it appears those type stories may never be written again on the grid iron.