Walk-ons face tough road

As a standout high school baseball player, Ken Eriksen passed up offers to play for schools near his Long Island home in order to enroll at USF.

Spurning schools such as St. John’s and Maryland, Eriksen faced the uncertainty of walking on to the Bulls baseball team, but he impressed Hall of Fame coach Robin Roberts enough to earn a roster spot in his freshman year and start the next three.

Now Eriksen, the seventh-year Bulls softball coach who chose USF because of its political science department – his specialty was Latin American politics – is looking for more players like him. On Wednesday, Eriksen and assistant coach Amber Wright held a meeting for prospective walk-ons who hope to play for the Bulls next spring.

He promised the nine would-be Bulls present that if they are good enough to beat out players currently on the roster, he would ensure they are on the team.

“If I have players (who) walk on (who) are better than the players we have on the team, we’ll cut the players on the team,” Eriksen told the gathering in Room 285 of the Social Sciences Building.

With 20 roster spots already taken, Eriksen said he would like to see four walk-ons make the team in the fall tryouts, which begin Sept. 27, but he would accommodate more if they had the ability.

And while talent is important, Eriksen said he puts more of a premium on desire than ability for walk-ons.

“We’ll take a player at South Florida (who) has more heart than talent, and they’ll fit in and they’ll want to be here … you’re only going to win if you’re players want to be here,” he said.

Teresa Palladino, a starter in 1996-97, and Gail Callinan, a left-handed reliever for the past two seasons, are two of the walk-ons who have had success with the Bulls. But they are in the minority. Largely because of sophisticated recruiting methods, the chance of a Division I-caliber player slipping through the cracks and not earning a scholarship out of high school is minimal.

“It’s very tough to come in and be a walk-on right now because of the communication that goes on in recruiting now, not only with going out to tournaments and seeing them but word of mouth, the Internet, all those types of things,” Eriksen said. “If there’s a great player out there, somebody is going to go see them play.”

But that chance still remains.

“You can’t uncover every stone in recruiting,” Eriksen said. “And every once in a while, you’ll get a great walk-on. If a kid can play, a kid can play.”

An hour after Eriksen wrapped up his meeting, the men’s soccer coaching staff conducted a tryout on the intramural fields for players hoping to join the USF team.

Roughly 15 players turned up, and 10 of them played a five-on-five scrimmage with two 20-minute halves. The pace in the first half was brisk, but when the field was extended by 10 yards in the second half and with the afternoon sun bearing down, the level of play dropped precipitously.

Assistant coach Jim Felix broke the bad news to the group: The fitness level is not sufficient for Division I soccer players.

Assistant coach Mike Duncan said the multicultural make-up of USF means that there are a number of talented players from various regions of the world, but lack of fitness often prevents then from walking on to the Bulls.

“You see a lot of different styles of play, a lot of different levels of play,” Duncan said. “Can someone walk on right now? It’s hard because their level of fitness is not really at the Division I level of fitness.”

Duncan reiterated Eriksen’s point that it is hard for a legitimate Division I prospect to go unnoticed and be forced to walk on.

“We know who’s coming in, and it’s very difficult to have a walk-on come in and make the team, although if Pele showed up, we’d take him,” Duncan said.

Contact Oracle Associate Editor Khari Williams at oraclekhari@yahoo.com