Utah Utes football: The life of a walk-on

Published: Thursday, April 12 2012 7:53 p.m. MDT

"It takes a lot of patience," he says. "You come out every day in practice and you obviously have a goal that you want to play right now. But it takes time to get the technique, the assignments, and the plays understood."

Cracroft says the success of players like Walker and Evans motivates him to keep playing even when he's not yet on the depth chart.

"Absolutely, that's one of the things that drives me, because I know a lot of these guys came from local schools and have walked on," he said. "It motivates me that the time will come and when it does it will be a great opportunity. That's the hard part, especially when you know you can compete. But that's the way it is — you have to pay your dues."

Nielson was contacted out of high school by schools such as Stanford, Baylor and BYU in addition to Utah, but didn't get solid scholarship offers. So being a lifelong Ute fan who grew up about five minutes from the campus, he chose Utah, where he joined the team as a "preferred" walk-on in 2009 and was able to start practicing in the summer.

After redshirting that season, Nielson left on an LDS mission before the Utes played Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl and returned three months ago. He is trying to get back into playing shape and although he doesn't get as many reps on the field, he tries to soak in as much as he can from the sideline.

"You take a lot of mental reps — just watch your position and make sure you're doing the right thing," he said. When the main players come off the field he says he'll talk to the them "about why they got yelled at."

With a limited number of reps available each day, the walk-ons have to make the best of their opportunities.

"You have to take advantage of all the reps you do get," Nielson said. "If you get two or three, you better be getting 100 percent on those two or three."

While both players know their time on the field might be a ways off in the future, there is always hope.

"That's the goal, hopefully I get a chance sometime this year," Nielson said.

"You don't necessarily think a year from now," adds Cracroft, "but a day from now."

That's the life of a walk-on, taking it just one day at a time.

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes practiced indoors at the Spence Eccles Field House because of Thursday's rainy weather. … ESPN college football analyst and former BYU offensive lineman Trevor Matich was among the observers on the sidelines. … Whittingham said Saturday's scrimmage at Rice-Eccles Stadium, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., will likely consist of 80 plays. … Running back Kelvin York (sprained knee) was in "The Pit" again, but he's expected to be back on the field Saturday.

email: sor@desnews.com

Prominent walk-ons

Chaz Walker (Davis High): Started at linebacker 2010-11, 2nd in Pac-12 in tackles

Matt Martinez (Cottonwood High): Two-year starter at linebacker 2010-11

Tevita Stevens (Hemet, Calif.): Started on offensive line in 2010-11

Christian Cox (Bountiful High): Started at defensive end 2009-10, all-MWC

Louie Sakoda (San Jose, Calif.): Consensus all-American kicker in 2008, 4-year starter

Casey Evans (Olympus High): Two-year starter at safety, all-MWC 2006

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