Photo by Tyler Lamb/ Sports Editor
Looking at MTSU and its stars like Reggie Upshaw, Giddy Potts and JaCorey Williams, it’s hard to imagine that the most popular player on the team is someone who has never made a shot.
That’s exactly the situation redshirt sophomore Chase Miller finds himself in.
While some may look at a walk-on and wonder why they are so popular, Miller simply believes that it all comes down to relatability.
“I think maybe the student body can really relate to you,” Miller said. “I’m not 6-8, and I don’t weigh 250 pounds. I think things like that make it easy for the student body and the fans to relate to you.”
Walk-ons are players on a college athletic team that aren’t on scholarship, meaning they rarely see any playing time and receive no financial aid from the athletic department. While some may think this means they’re just there for nothing, they actually play a pretty big role.
“My role is to just come in and help my teammates get better,” Middle Tennessee walk-on Isaiah Eguaebor said. “Whether that’s understanding the plays of the other team or whenever I get in, [it’s about] pushing my teammates.”
Walk-ons also go through practice, warm-ups and traveling just like the scholarship players do, in addition to balancing school and work as well. The casual fan may think that they do nothing, but actually, there’s not much they don’t do.
“Their week is no different from our guys…They go to all the weight room activities and every film meeting we do,” Blue Raider head coach Kermit Davis said. “It’s a lot of sacrifice for guys that are non-scholarship players.”
One thing that makes the idea of being a walk-on good is the support one receives from the fans. Just earlier this year, Kentucky freshman Bradley Calipari got into a game against Clarion and proceeded to knock down a three-point shot while getting fouled for a four-point play.
In 2010, University of Tennessee walk-on Skylar McBee was forced into starting against the No. 1-ranked Kansas Jayhawks because of injuries and suspensions. McBee did not disappoint, even knocking down a crucial three against the Jayhawks to help secure the win.
One thing that adds to the popularity of the players is that they come from the surrounding area. While Eguaebor hails from Murfreesboro, fellow freshman Will Slatten is from Lynchburg, Tennessee. One thing that being at MT made easier was that they weren’t playing in front of thousands of strangers; rather, their audience is full of people who have seen them play and supported them for years.
“It’s really the greatest feeling in the world. I have a huge fan base from where I’m from that have come out just to watch me sit on the sidelines,” Slatten said. “They were all rooting for me to play college ball during my senior year, and when I told them that I was playing here, everybody was excited and wanted to come out and see me play.”
One thing that coach Davis thinks is great about what Miller, Eguaebor, Slatten and Stephen Strachan do is that it unifies the team and makes them better as a unit.
“I think it speaks volumes for your culture and your locker room. It also speaks volumes for Stephen and Chase,” Davis said. “Teams don’t just automatically do that. They understand the sacrifices that [walk-ons] make, that they’re really good teammates on and off the floor and they see how hard they pull for them while they’re playing, so [scholarship players] want success for them as well.”
Despite the big difference in roles, it doesn’t deter the friendship that bonds the Blue Raider basketball team.
“It doesn’t matter what your role is on the team, we’re all friends,” Slatten said. “From any given night, I’ll have anybody from Reggie or Giddy to Chase and Stephen over, so it’s a great [feeling].”
While the players treat each other like family on and off the court, Miller thinks the community as a whole provides a great support base for everyone on the team.
“It’s such a great community. Murfreesboro and MTSU … you’ve got a support system not only on the court with your teammates but also off the court,” Miller said. “‘Brothers on and off the court’ is what I like to say.”