National Signing Day has become an annual ritual in the Southeastern Conference. Casual fans may not care that much about it -- after all, most of these guys won’t play right away, and many of them probably won’t even play significant roles on the team for two or three years. But we obsess over the star ratings granted to our signees by recruiting services, before they’ve even played a game.
And then... there are the walk-ons. They don’t sign letters of intent, there is no fanfare accompanying their arrival, and most fans probably don’t even know who they are. Most of them won’t see any action outside of practice, but they’re an important part of the program. And we figure you should at least know their names.
Before we begin, there are two types of walk-ons. There are the traditional walk-ons who make the team via tryout, and there are invited (or “preferred”) walk-ons who are offered a spot on the team before they arrive on campus, though they’re not on scholarship. Preferred walk-ons can participate in preseason practices, and these eight are the preferred walk-ons who are now listed on the Vanderbilt roster.
Gil Barksdale, defensive back: #38 on the roster, 5’10”, 180 pounds out of Solon, Ohio (suburban Cleveland.) Also was a four-year letterman in lacrosse, and was a running back and DB in high school and also returned kicks and... oh, just look at the highlight tape, he looks fast on film:
Cody Markel, tight end: This is fun, when you Google him the first result is from Anchor of Gold announcing his commitment. Of course, Markel, #45 on the roster, 6’4”, 240 pounds from Middleton, Wisconsin, is a preferred walk-on, which Russ didn’t know at the time. He was also a high school teammate of Andy Ludwig’s son.
Tommy Schlager, fullback: #47 on the roster, 6’0”, 220 pounds out of Portland, Oregon. Well this is embarrassing, his team site profile doesn’t have any information and neither does Google.
David Floyd, offensive lineman: #55 on the roster, out of Lipscomb Academy in Nashville. At 6’5”, 290, he’s got the size for an FBS offensive lineman. Also, since he played at a small high school, you can watch him destroy 180-pound defensive linemen on film, which is always fun:
Sadly, SEC defensive linemen are not that small.
Nick Richmond, linebacker: #59 on the roster, 6’1”, 215 pounds out of Santa Monica, California. He was apparently First Team All-CIF Southeast. On film, he looks like the kind of guy who turned down FCS offers to walk on at an SEC school:
Zach Aguirre, offensive lineman: #66 on the roster, 6’2”, 292 pounds out of Mission Viejo, California. Played for high school powerhouse Mater Dei. About what you would expect from a walk-on who played at a high school powerhouse, he’s an undersized guy with good blocking technique:
Zack Smith, wide receiver: #81 on the roster, 6’3”, 198 pounds out of Mariposa, California. The team site doesn’t have a bio on him yet (slackers...) but according to this article he caught 84 passes for 1167 yards and 11 touchdowns as a high school senior. (For comparison, fellow freshman WR Jackson Winrow had 52 catches for 1052 yards and 12 touchdowns.) Also from the article, Smith says he’s getting a bunch of his cost of attendance covered by academic scholarships and grants, which, you wonder why Vanderbilt doesn’t take advantage of that more often... also, at the two-minute mark, watch him jump over a defender:
Ryley Guay, kicker: Of COURSE there’s a kicker. #98 on the roster, 5’10”, 170 pounds from Naperville, Illinois. Also played soccer in high school because of course he did. Chris Sailer Kicking notes he was the 2014 Illinois Summer Camp Field Goal Champion.
So, now you know the preferred walk-ons in the Class of 2016. Now be honest, how many of you are more impressed with their highlight tapes than some of the guys we actually have on scholarship?