WXYT Radio and Michigan man on the sidelines Doug Karsch first noticed it a few years ago when standing next to former walk-on defensive lineman Will Heininger and talking to him on the sidelines at the Sugar Bowl: "he's a lot like us," he said.
The "us" in this case was Karsch, me and most of the rest of you - people who would have loved to be able to play Big Ten football (at least until the first hit). The difference, of course, was that Heininger - though on crutches at the time and out with an injury) - was not only equipped to play Big Ten ball, but so much so that he earned one of a handful of walk-on scholarships.
That made Heininger elite in a way: one of the kids willing to take a beating for their love for the school, trusting enough in their ability on the off chance that they'd get to play and perhaps even get their education paid for. Receiver Joe Reynolds, left guard Graham Glasgow and fullback Joe Kerridge joined their company Sunday night.
"They set a standard for work ethic and the toughness and their love for their teammates and Michigan," head coach Brady Hoke said. "Joe Reynolds, Graham Glasgow and Joe Kerridge were the three guys most deserving. When you have the opportunity to do that as a coach, you always feel good. Obviously, it's helping the families out. More than that, the guys have earned it."
Not just scholarships, but for all three, the right to play significant minutes on a team that now has legitimate scholarship depth. They ignored the fact that there were no recruiting stars next to their names and chose to compete anyway, and they're now key components to one of the nation's top programs.
That's especially satisfying to someone like Heininger, whose film is still used to teach some of the younger linemen proper technique.
"Football is implicitly a team game," Heininger said. "While fans love pointing to statistics and individual players, it is the satisfaction of achieving something as a group - something difficult, that every single person poured tremendous effort and energy into - that makes the game so great, and the bonds between teammates so tight. That is why when Joe, Joey K, and Graham earned scholarships this morning, you'd see just as much joy coming from their teammates as the receiving players themselves.
"In the eyes of their teammates - and I can guarantee you this - guys aren't thought of as walk-ons vs. scholarship players, especially once they start to contribute. And how do you get to contribute? You work your tail off all winter, spring, summer, and in fall camp to become the team's and the coaches' best option at a position. It is precisely that work, that time spent with teammates grinding it out, that blurs the line between 'walk-on' and 'scholarship' player. Instead, it's just 105 guys giving effort together above and beyond what any single player could do individually. The three individuals that earned (or re-earned) scholarship this morning are tremendous football players, teammates, and human beings. I expect them to be a significant part of Team 134's success, just as the other hundred plus will be, as well."
For the walk-ons, though - former and present - there's a fraternity and sense of pride among a group that has gone through the same wars to earn a place as a starter.
"It is a sort of validation that 'yes, I do belong here,' even if your teammates decided that long ago," Heininger said. "At Michigan, it has become especially meaningful given the camaraderie among walk-ons, proudly referred to as 'The Nation' by its members. 'The Nation' really comes down to looking out for each other and pointing young guys in the right direction, the way upperclassmen did for you when you first arrived and were still awestruck by just putting on the helmet.
"For me, it was guys like Max Pollack and Tim North who took me under their wing and showed me how to be successful. They did the same for great Michigan Men like Zach Ciullo, Jordan Kovacs, etc, who in turn took the same interest in the men that earned their scholarships today."
It's a unique brotherhood, a small section of a much larger, much more important brotherhood that is University of Michigan Football, he added.
"Today, three members of those brotherhoods were recognized for work they put in weeks, months, and even years ago," Heininger said.
And doing those who came before them proud. Rest assured 'The Nation' will be watching them closely, and with a great amount of pride, when they take the field Aug. 31.