On a typical Saturday afternoon, as Texas takes the field, you can see the dedication of the orange and white clad Longhorns who battle through pain, intense heat and long practices day in and day out just to play a sport. What many don’t realize is that the dedication shown by the boys without helmets and pads is just as valuable and just as respectful. The underappreciated walk-ons who sit on the sidelines, many of whom realize they may never see the field, go through the same pain, the same intense heat and the same long practices as the rest of the team.
However, the coaches do not like the term walk-on — they believe that it is degrading to an athlete who is so dedicated to the program, and instead these hard working individuals are known simply as non-scholarship athletes.
Prior to their selection to the team, these non-scholarship athletes go through a very difficult and extremely exhausting tryout process that is not meant for the weak-hearted or feebleminded.
Shawn Izadi, a junior from Coppell, Texas, has been through the tryout process three times and hopes that this year is the year that he finally makes the team.
The biochemistry junior, who hopes to one day go to medical school, signed up to try out for safety. While in high school, Izadi played safety during his freshman and sophomore years. When he made drum major of the band his junior year, he quit football to devote his time to his new position and never made varsity.
As a transfer student his sophomore year, Izadi meant to try out his first semester but was persuaded into auditioning for the Texas Longhorn Band instead. After earning a marching spot, his plans to play football were put on hold.
But while playing “Texas Fight” on a saxophone and watching football in fringe from the stands, Izadi realized he had to try out for the team — he didn’t have a choice.
“As the semester went on, I just got that urge,” he said. “I was like, I got to do this, I got to try out. So Christmas break, I started training.”
The first tryouts were a painful experience. During the first week of his second semester on campus, Izadi tried out for the first time.
“I did not realize how tough tryouts would be. It was the most miserable experience ever,” he explained. “No one was in shape, they ran us to death, it was unbearable and I felt embarrassed.”
They started their tryout process with a warm-up routine in the weight room at Moncrief Newhouse, the football training complex attached to the stadium. It was so physically taxing that none of the nine guys trying out finished what the coaches had planned. That semester, no one made the team.
The part of the workout that they did get through consisted of timed sprints along with sled pulls.
At the beginning of last fall, as a junior, Izadi tried out for a second time. This time, he was ready for it. Over the previous summer, Izadi, along with a few friends, trained with his old high school coach. For two months he went through daily four-hour practices to prepare for the fall.
When he got to Frank Denius Fields, the players were allowed to start off easy by going through their own warm-ups. Afterwards, they got down to business.
“That’s when all hell broke loose,” Izadi said.
The first part of the tryouts is the conditioning portion. The walk-on hopefuls were told to sprint across the field in the shape of an X. Starting at one corner of the field, they had to sprint the diagonal, jog the length of the end zone, then sprint the other diagonal. They had to do that twice. Piece of cake, right?
“Little do you realize that once your adrenaline gets pumping, you wear out quickly. We did that sprint twice and I guess someone didn’t finish, so the coach said ‘again.’ So, we did it again,” he explained. “Then someone must have walked halfway through it ... so we all did it again.”
Yet it still wasn’t enough. The coaches were still not satisfied with three sets of sprints and determined that it was time for more. With legs that were about to collapse, the tryouts got down on the turf and began an assignment of 100 push-ups.
“We got to 50 before we started to break down and then [strength and conditioning] coach [Bennie] Wylie gets down and does 100 push-ups immediately before we even finish ours, it was kind of motivational,” he said.
After the condition, the coaches imposed agility drills to gauge the ability levels of the tryouts. It may seem simple enough, but after being worked to the bone during warm-ups and sprint drills, it was hard to keep up a decent level of intensity. The repetitiveness of the drills and the coaches’ strict directions added to the challenge.
“They were big on their directions, if they said touch the line, you better touch the line,” Izadi said.
Finally, the process was almost over. There was just one more thing. The tryouts ended with what seemed like a Texas football tradition. Everyone had to start on the goal line, bear crawl 10 yards followed by five up-downs. Between each up-down, they had to yell “I Love Texas!”
“Every player that has gone through the Texas program recently goes through this,” he recalled. “You can’t even describe it. I told myself that I better make it this year because I don’t want to go through that again.”
After everything was said and done, Izadi still didn’t make the team. However, this time it was because the coaches didn’t have enough roster spots to add a non-scholarship safety.
Even though he didn’t make the team, he was still impressed by the level of respect that the coaches held for everyone at the tryouts.
“The coaches told us that no matter if we made it or not, we should feel accomplished that we even decided to step out on this field to attempt this, and you could tell from their voice that it’s very sincere,” he said.
Izadi also had nothing but praise for the two coaches who put on the workouts — coach Ken Rucker, the director of high school relations and player development, and coach Wylie, the football strength and conditioning coach.
“Both are fabulous coaches, I couldn’t ask anything more of a coach,” he said. “I would love nothing more than to be part of their program because the way they treated us was with the utmost respect.”
He went on to describe a moment when he saw Rucker right before a Longhorn Band rehearsal. Izadi was impressed that Rucker remembered him after the short time they spent together during tryouts.
When asked if he would put himself through the painful tryout process for a third time, Izadi admitted that he had no choice.
“That’s a tough question, but I have to,” he said. “Every year I get closer and closer. Football is just something I am in love with. I may not be the best athlete. I may lack talent. And I may lack the physical tools necessary, but none of that has ever stopped me from pursuing what I love. Don’t ever give up on the things that mean the most to you. Work hard. Dig deep.”