The Path of a PWO
Or simply, “PWO.”
The term in high school and college football can be construed a number of different ways. Much of its connotation depends on your perspective, whether that be a college coach, or the actual preferred walk-on student-athlete who, undoubtedly, displays incredible character, drive, and perseverance.
With both Class of 2022 National Letter of Intent signing days now in the rearview mirror, the picture is clear for a number of Arizona high school players who may had spurred other opportunities in favor of a PWO spot at a bigger school.
If you’ve followed AZHS football at all over the past decade, you’re well aware of just how crazy and unpredictable the recruiting process can be. From DaVonte’ Neal’s signing day fiasco, to Brock Purdy’s late surge from a virtual national unknown to committable offers from Alabama, Texas A&M, Boise State and, eventually, Iowa State, this is a difficult trek which many high school athletes, and their parents, face.
As for preferred walk-ons, there are some true success stories.
Former all-everything Centennial High two-way star Jayden Young saw many of his Power 5 offers evaporate, so he bet on himself and joined the University of Arizona as a PWO in the summer of 2020. That following fall, as a true freshman, he saw action in the Wildcats’ secondary.
A year later, this happened.
Congrats to @rourke_freeburg, @Jaydin_Young3 and Treydan Stukes on being put on scholarship!#ItsPersonal #BearDown pic.twitter.com/GjBDWIwsMM
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) August 19, 2021
But the road less traveled can often be a rocky one.
First, obviously, you’re not on scholarship so your time and efforts for said program come at your costs, not the schools. There are 85 scholarship players ahead of you and you need to be close to perfect to catch a coaches’ eye, much less make a dent in your position depth chart.
Secondly, players will almost always face an uphill battle competing with the scholarship players because the program, and those coaches, invested in them. As one AZHS head coach told the “Zone Read,” “It’s a bad look for a position coach if his scholarship recruit gets beat out by a walk-on.”
Blessed and couldn’t be more excited for the future! Thank you @CoachJeddFisch and @Coach_KC84 for the opportunity!! #beardown 🔴🔵 pic.twitter.com/cTyZs6kxPi
— Gavin Smith (@gavinsmith33_) November 9, 2021
However, as college football has evolved, so too has the life of the preferred walk-on.
Some programs now offer training table (AKA: meals) for non-scholarship athletes. Others, like BYU, are offering NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) deals to walk-ons which help pay for schooling and, essentially, create more scholarships.
Coaches find dedicated walk-ons valuable to help run scout team and generally amp up practices because, for many walk-ons, the practices are their games.
While players may find value in grinding it out in hopes of the golden ticket (being placed on scholarship), the reality was put in perspective by another Arizona high school coach.
“In the back of your mind, you always think, ‘If they really wanted me, why didn’t they give me a scholarship?'”
Super Bowl Perk
Bryce Perkins was never a preferred walk-on but the former Chandler High star’s path following his prep days in the southeast Valley to this weekend’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles was far from ordinary.
After leading the Wolves to their first state championship in 2014 (their first since 1949), Perkins signed with Arizona State before transferring to Arizona Western Junior College in Yuma after not playing a single down for the Sun Devils in two seasons. He then transferred to Virginia and went on to set the school record for total offense (7,910 yards).
After going undrafted, Perkins signed with the Rams in late April of 2020 and is LA’s third quarterback behind Matthew Stafford and former Arizona Hotshot John Wolford.
I’m so grateful to be where I’m at surrounded by the people around me! Thank you God 🙏🏾
— Bryce Perkins (@TDN_Perk) February 5, 2022
‘It’s crazy,” Perkins said in a recent interview with Sports360AZ.com’s Brad Cesmat. “I just remember going through so many different hoops and obstacles…from leaving Arizona State, going to JUCO, leaving junior college and going to [Virginia]. It’s wild that everything had led up to here after so many different things that have happened since high school, but everything happens for a reason.”
Charlottesville ➡️ Super Bowl LVI
🔶⚔️🔷#GoHoos | @TDN_Perk pic.twitter.com/ItLxi945Hc
— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) January 31, 2022
Perkins realized sometimes in life, and football life, it’s best to take a step or two backwards before striving to reach your next goal.
“When I was leaving Arizona State, I wanted to go to another Power Five [program],” he explained to Cesmat. “But that wasn’t the best option for me…I knew when I made the decision to go to junior college I said, ‘Now I’m just focused on doing good at a junior college and I’ll have an opportunity.'”
An opportunity to not only play for a Super Bowl team, but try to figure out one very important question going into Sunday’s showdown against the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals: who gets tickets?
“Oh, man,” Perkins said with a smile. “We only get two. After that, the prices are kind of steep on tickets. I’ve received a fair share [of requests]. Definitely.”
Welcome to Morgan-Town
If you’ve been on the sideline of a big game the past couple of years you’ve probably spotted Andrew Morgan, or “Inspector Gadget,” fully equipped with backpack, two cameras, iPhone for social updates, and an infectious energy for Arizona high school football.
The Boulder Creek High student turned ArizonaVarsity.com intern is graduating a year early because bigger things lie ahead.
— Andrew Morgan (@AJMorganFB) February 6, 2022
“I’ve been blessed to have been around football pretty much my entire life,” Morgan said to the “Zone Read.” “My father [Kyle] has worked in football for a number of years and I’ve learned so much from him. Once I stopped playing, I knew I didn’t want to leave the game behind so I took any chance I was given to help out here and there.”
Your mom and I couldn’t be more proud of you and all of your hard work as you turn your dreams into reality.
Poppin’ Tags!!! https://t.co/cqyP4m1mYx pic.twitter.com/97BARAqg6X
— Kyle Morgan CATAPULT Southwest Regional Scout (@KyleMorgan_XOS) February 6, 2022
Morgan’s hard work caught the attention of second-year Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch who has aggressively recruited the Valley since taking over for Kevin Sumlin, who did the exact opposite.
“I’m thrilled that the staff at Arizona reached out over the past year to offer me an opportunity to make my dreams come true, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the program,” Morgan, who will be studying Sports Business, explained. “What really appealed to me was the chance to be a part of something larger than myself. Coach Fisch is really turning the program around and building something special. He’s a brilliant head coach with a lot of NFL ties and he’s brought in a staff that’s built on relationships and the bigger picture.”
Now he’s ready to further expand his knowledge base in Tucson and help get the Wildcats back to football relevance in the Pac-12 South.
“I still have so much to learn and I’m just excited to get started,” he said. “I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have been blessed with, but now it’s all about understanding my role, putting in the work and making sure the program improves everyday.”
Happy for “the kid from Anthem” and the best part is…he’s just getting started.