How do Athletes Walk on Teams?

While the majority of athletes on UChicago’s varsity teams are recruited, some are students who walk on.

By Brinda Rao

At UChicago, continuing an athletic career derives from a love of the sport. UChicago’s DIII program makes it so that many students can pursue beloved sports. While a majority of these athletes are recruited, some members of our varsity teams started off like the majority of students at UChicago—as just students. These students walk onto varsity teams, joining recruited athletes as representatives of the University. While the process of walking on is pretty uniform, many athletes who walk on have unique stories.

For many students, going through formal athletic recruitment was never a consideration in high school. The process requires opening dialogues with coaches of programs at a slew of universities and putting in extensive additional work on top of the process of applying to the university. Many students do not imagine being qualified to continue their athletic career in college, leading them to leave their sport in the past. 

However, UChicago presents a unique opportunity for students to reconsider that decision. All of its teams are NCAA DIII sports, giving a chance for some students to try walking onto teams. Although some teams fill their rosters with recruited athletes, others have space due to athletes quitting or not recruiting a complete roster. This gives students the opportunity to try walking onto the team. 

First-year Adriana Shutler walked on to UChicago’s women’s varsity lacrosse team. Shutler is also a recruited athlete for UChicago’s women’s varsity soccer team. Having played lacrosse since her childhood, Shutler wanted to find a way to continue playing in college. With this being the first year of UChicago’s varsity lacrosse program, the roster of the team was not filled. Shutler explains, “I talked to the coach last year and she was really accommodating about it. I had a week trial period to get integrated into the team that was like a tryout period.” 

Walking onto a team does not necessarily require previous years of experience mastering the sport. Third-year Roberto Rabines walked onto UChicago’s varsity football team his first year. Having played both soccer and volleyball in high school, he had never played football before. He reflects, “I’d dreamed of playing football growing up, and reached out to coach Wilkerson to see if it was even a possibility for me. He gave me the opportunity to practice with the team, and the coaches and my teammates demonstrated a lot of patience helping me up the learning curve. I will always be thankful to the coaching staff and players for letting me be a part of this program.” 

With a dynamic and welcoming varsity program, UChicago enables students to consider taking athletic careers to the college level. Student-athletes who’ve walked on have noted the commitment and intensity of the athletics program but still have found support from teammates and coaches. UChicago’s athletics department creates no excessive barriers to joining their teams, fostering an informal walking-on process that is largely controlled by coaches. In doing so, UChicago creates circumstances for students to continue beloved athletic lives. 

Reflecting on her experience walking onto the women’s lacrosse team, Shutler comments, “It was so much fun. The team was so close and welcoming. It is a lot of work, but you become a better person through it.”