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Why walk ons should be celebrated

Walk ons perform hard labor and thankless tasks for nothing more than one chance to live a dream

This man did the right thing. Here's to you, Coach Talley.
This man did the right thing. Here's to you, Coach Talley.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

If you missed it in the news and notes, Villanova walk-on senior Fred O'Connor has created quite a stir with two carries late in Villanova's blowout win over Albany. Well, that's not actually correct. Albany coach Greg Gattuso created the stir when he called the walk-on's appearance "classless" and went on to bash Villanova coach Andy Talley for not simply kneeing the ball out. This was in a 48-31 conference game, on senior night, with 30 seconds left. O'Connor carried the ball twice for 19 yards, and in doing so he raised the ire of someone who has lost sight of what matters.

Greg Gattuso, arbiter of all things class, hasn't been a head coach anywhere since he left Duquesne in 2004. In the intervening time he apparently spent all his time in Miss Manners classes and being an assistant at Pitt and Maryland. Gattuso has led Albany to a 6-5 season in the CAA. Being throttled by a clearly superior 'Nova squad probably had nothing to do with his outburst though. Why would it, these are the sacred unwritten rules we are talking about.

After Albany scored to close within 17,  O'Connor got his two carries. They weren't trick plays, they weren't explosive sweeps around the end, they weren't deep bombs intended to run up the score. O'Connor ran the ball up the middle twice. The hapless Great Dane defense couldn't stop him on the first, much as they hadn't stopped the Wildcats all game, and the second went for a yard. Two carries, 19 yards, game over. Gattuso, of course, was very mad.

To quote from the article by Marc Narducci of the Philedelphia Inquirer "I was very disappointed with Coach Talley at the end of the game," Gattuso said. "Thirty seconds left, [he] doesn't want to kneel. He mentioned Joe Paterno to me, and how he looked up to him. I can promise you this, he's no Joe Paterno after this, doing something like that." Gattus wasn't finished being an idiot there, though, "I think that was so little class it shocked me," he said. "..I just think it's a rookie coach mistake, and if it was a young coach it would be one thing, but somebody of his stature to do something like that is shocking to me." Andy Talley of Villanova is not a rookie coach, he's actually a great, but that isn't the point.

The point is this: walk ons deserve their chance. When you see Remy Abell bury a three, Jalen Reynolds hammer down a dunk, or Dee Davis run an offense, know they practiced against a walk on. You won't see the walk on most games. He'll be a smaller guy, near the end of the bench, cheering just as loudly as any fan. Walk ons get up early for practice, they stay out late on roadtrips, they run, lift, hit the floor, bleed, ache, and sweat as much as any scholarship player. They do that, though, without the benefit of a scholarship. Walk ons have to be true student-athletes, because they aren't going pro in anything other than what they study. Despite that, they practice, workout, and put forth just as much effort as any player you'll see on the television. They do it all without any recognition, with no notice on any pregame, and sometimes without even any thanks. They do it all to get one chance.

And that's what Greg Gattuso is mad about. One walk on got his chance for Villanova on Saturday. He walked out onto the field that he's tried so hard to get onto for four years, the fans rose and cheered, the quarterback called his number and, for forty some seconds, he lived his dream. Those moments will live with Fred O'Connor, and his proud parents, forever. Over on the other sideline, a small man fumed.