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August 29, 2013After Joe Reynolds arrived in Ann Arbor as a freshman in 2009, he had a decision to make - one in which upwards of $100,000 was at stake.
Reynolds, a Michigan High School Athletics Association champion in the 800-meter run, had accepted a scholarship to join the Wolverines' track and field team. But football was in his blood. If he was going to do one sport, he was going to go all the way with it.
And so, he was faced with a choice: continue with the track team or go all in on football, as a walk-on paying his own way through school to wear the famous winged helmet.
"I prayed a lot about it, and I just knew that football was where I was supposed to be," said Reynolds, now a fifth-year senior receiver. "That has been reiterated to me through staying. I know I made the right choice. The passion I had for track and field was outweighed by the passion I had for Michigan football."
Reynolds, redshirt sophomore fullback Joe Kerridge and redshirt sophomore left guard Graham Glasgow - all three of whom will be key contributors for the Wolverines this season - were selected by Michigan coach Brady Hoke for scholarships this week.
"We were in the team room after dinner and we came in and there was a camera in the room," Kerridge said. "It happened the same time last year. You get a little nervous and don't know what to expect but you have that thought process going through your head. Last year he sort of snuck up on the people. He called them up like they were in trouble, and got them in front, and then announced it. This year he was real straightforward and talking about walk-ons that have put the time in there and have helped the team out, and guys that have stood apart, and this year we were fortunate to have three of them."
"He called the three of us up, and the whole team went crazy," Reynolds added.
"It was great, Glasgow said. "Surreal. Afterwards, I gave a little speech, I didn't know what to say. That was one of the goals I set for myself and it's nice to accomplish that. But it's just one of the goals. It's the beginning.
"Now, my goals are to start, which is going pretty well. And becoming a good player, and then we'll see what happens down the road."
After receiving his scholarship, Reynolds said he was more relieved than surprised.
The wide receiver went through the same thing last year, when he was selected as a walk-on who would receive a scholarship.
But the Wolverines - whose recent recruiting classes have been amongst the best in the country - can never truly accurately predict how many scholarships will be available for walk-ons the next season.
When Reynolds received his scholarship before the 2012 season, Hoke made it clear that it was a one-year deal. If Reynolds wanted to continue to be on scholarship, he'd have to earn it.
"I thought I put in the work and put myself in a really good opportunity to earn a scholarship again, but you never know," he said. "They don't have a lot of scholarships floating around. Joey Kerridge is a guy who could have easily been on scholarship last year. He started so many games last year. Graham Glasgow is an incredible player, too. I was just fortunate that they had one for me."
The last five years, during three of which he ended up paying his own way, haven't always been easy for Reynolds.
He can remember coming to his first practice as a freshman, weighing 160 pounds, and looking up at senior receiver Greg Mathews - 6-3, 207 - and thinking, "Do I really belong here?"
"When I was a freshman, I thought the gap between me and him was astronomical, so of course I questioned whether I could do it," he said. ""Not anymore. Those thoughts don't cross my mind now."
After developing a close-knit bond with the then-Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez and his staff, Reynolds was once again faced with the task of winning the affections of the coaches when Hoke and Co. moved to town.
"At times, it has been hard," Reynolds said. "When the first coaching staff left, I had to prove myself all over again, and that was difficult, especially because I had established a great relationship with the prior coaching staff. I love these guys now, but it was hard to start over."
Last season, Reynolds cracked the lineup, and while he may have only made two catches, he play significant minutes and became one of the Wolverines' best blockers on the edge.
"It was pretty surreal playing against Michigan State and making plays against them. And playing against Ohio, in the greatest game in college football," he said. "The one thing I have improved on - and continue to improve on - is just knowing that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, that I can do whatever these coaches want me to do."
There's a private Facebook page where Michigan walk-ons can join together and stay in touch.
The walk-on community at Michigan is a family within a family, and although these Reynolds, Kerridge and Glasgow have earned scholarships, they will be members of it for life.
"Last year when Jordan Kovacs gave his speech at the end of the year and he had a few things he was proud of, and the first one was being a walk-on," Kerridge said. "That spoke volumes to all of us. He was proud to work up through the ranks to get there. It's a great feeling and a great accomplishment and I'll try to live up to it for the rest of the walk-ons on the team.
"I'll always be a walk-on. It's something you carry along with you. You think about where you came from and what you've accomplished."