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Barry Alvarez: Nebraska's Not That 'Far Away' from a Turnaround
Photo Credit: Mark Hoffman - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: Talking Walk-Ons with Barry Alvarez

October 04, 2017

The best thing about Nebraska's burgeoning Big Ten rivalry with Wisconsin is the link provided by former Husker and current Badgers AD Barry Alvarez. Or maybe it's the worst thing. Given that Wisconsin is 5-1 against Nebraska in conference games, I guess it's a matter of whether you'd rather lose to one of your own or if that only makes it worse.

Either way, Alvarez is there and because he is the Badgers have displayed remarkable consistency through a handful of coaching changes. It should be the envy of most programs across the country because not many are able to achieve it.

On Tuesday, Alvarez joined Hail Varsity Radio host Chris Schmidt for a few minutes to talk about a variety of topics ahead of Badgers-Huskers this Saturday. Check out the complete interview for Alvarez's thoughts on Wisconsin's defense, quarterback Alex Hornibrook and Dave Rimington. Below you'll find Alavarez's thoughts on the role walk-ons have played for the Badgers, which arose from a question about the offensive line and is sure to be of some interest in Nebraska.

HV: Take me inside your system a little bit for developing offensive linemen.

It’s not a secret, it’s a lot like Nebraska ran their walk-on program way back when I was there. I saw the benefits of it.
– Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez

BA: When Paul [Chryst] took over [in 2015] we had taken a huge step backwards. The previous staff were not putting enough emphasis on Wisconsin kids, were not putting an emphasis on our walk-on program, and it really hurt us. What Paul inherited was a very thin offensive line and we were able to get through that. But last year we had recruited well and now we’ve got a group of guys who have started, we’ve got a group of redshirt freshmen who back them up and we have another group of linemen that we’re redshirting this year. I think from now on we’ll have good depth on the offensive line. But for the last couple of years we had lost that. We’ve just been able to build that back up.  For so many years here the majority of the linemen were kids that we recruited out of Wisconsin, and many of them were walk-ons . . . It’s not a secret, it’s a lot like Nebraska ran their walk-on program way back when I was there. I saw the benefits of it. I thought that was an advantage when you have one Division I school in the state, kids want to have an opportunity to play Division I football and the coaches do a good job and know who has the potential to grow and fill out, but loves the game and brings the right attitude. Those kids pan out and give you an edge.

HV: Is it a tougher sell to keep getting that walk-on talent today?

BA: Not as far as we’re concerned. The kids see that they’re going to get a fair chance here. Our history says that. That’s how we recruit them. They see the board that we have of all the kids since I started that walked on and earned scholarships, the ones that were captains. We’ve been to six Rose Bowls. Every one of those Rose Bowls had walk-ons as captains. There’s a track record here, and they’re not going to be separated. They’re going to be treated just like the scholarship kids. You don’t know the difference once they show up here.

HV: What kind of toughness and chip-on-their-shoulder does that walk-on bring to the more ballyhooed prospects? How does that meld together?

BA: There’s no distinction between a walk-on and a scholarship player. Whoever plays the best, it doesn’t make any difference to us. Here’s a good example, let me just explain – I called them “my erasers.” The 16 years I was a head coach, we batted 50 percent on our signees. We’d bring in 20 to 24 walk-ons a year. Let’s say you get five or six that end up making it every year. If you sign an average of 20 every year, instead of having 10 that are strong contributors you’ve got 16 or 17 so you’re batting average goes up and you should always have solid, mature players on the field.

HV: What are your thoughts on Nebraska’s season so far?

BA: Obviously they’ve had a couple of games where they didn’t play very well and they’ve turned it over. When you turn it over in this league you’re going to be in trouble. I just came back from the football office and I watched some film with Paul and watched a little bit with [defensive coordinator] Jimmy Leonhard. You know [Nebraska’s] got good players. They’ve got physical lines, look like they’ve got good skill players. They look like they have a nice team.

Worth noting here that with that "very thin" offensive line Alvarez says Chryst inherited in 2015, the Badgers still went 21-6 over the past two seasons. When the defense is only giving up about 15 points a game, you can get away with some growing pains on the other side, I guess.

Also noteworthy: Alvarez is still watching film with his football coaches. Can't imagine there are too many places across the country where that's happening.

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