Dave Rimington said during his introduction as Nebraska’s interim athletic director that he would like to train some of his attention on football’s walk-on program here.
Wednesday morning on an Omaha radio show, he provided more detail.
“People looked at me sideways like the RCA dog or something, cocked their head and said, ‘What are you talking about?’ People forget how important the walk-on program is,” Rimington said on 1620 The Zone’s Sharp and Benning in the Morning show.
“Someone came to me the other day and said, ‘We’ve got too many walk-ons. … we’re playing too many walk-ons.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t think that’s the walk-on’s fault. I think that’s probably a scholarship player’s fault.’"
The Huskers can have up to 135 total players in the program – a cap set by the athletic director, according to Rimington – and 105 during camp. Head coach Mike Riley in late September said the team typically has right around the maximum, but attrition and subsequent try-outs keep that number somewhat in flux over the course of a season.
With 85 scholarships available, that means the Huskers can have up to 50 walk-ons.
“The rules have changed a little bit,” Riley said Sept. 27. “You can’t duplicate those numbers under what we have today. But we’re still getting players that are impacting, playing in the games. And we just get a great job done by the guys that are working their way up to do that and are on the scout team. We still have a bigger team than almost everybody. We have embraced it in every way. I know the impact they’ve made on this program historically, and I’ve also got my own great stories.”
All six of the walk-ons that Nebraska awarded scholarships to in August – tight ends Tyler Hoppes and Connor Ketter, wide receivers Gabe Rahn and Brett Classen, fullback Luke McNitt and offensive lineman Cole Conrad – have played on offense this year. Among others, walk-ons Jeremiah Stovall and Austin Rose are key special teamers, and Stovall has seen a snap on defense here and there.
Six of those eight players hail from Nebraska.
“Everybody thinks they know the walk-on program because we’ve got three or four walk-ons, but back in my day, back in the day, we had a whole team of walk-ons,” Rimington said, while recognizing that the landscape has changed.
“There’s a lot of kids in this state that can play ball, there really is, and we just need to give them a chance," he added. "If not a scholarship, how about a preferred walk-on? I know the numbers are tight. … If we didn’t have these walk-ons, where would we be in our depth? We’ve got to be realistic. Our advantage at Nebraska is that we have people who will pay to come and play because they love the university and will sacrifice and forego a scholarship somewhere else because they want to touch that field and go out there and play.”