Walk-ons Provide Energy, Spirit
Nov. 3, 2005
By Jeremy Herb
The Santa Clara
The goal had no impact on the game's outcome.
But for Mutanda Kwesele, scoring the final tally in the waning minutes of a 3-0 victory over Portland reflected everything that he has done as a walk-on to impact the Santa Clara men's soccer team this season.
The freshman midfielder is one of a small number of players who has walked onto a nationally ranked soccer team. Kwesele, sophomore midfielder Jerred O'Connell and freshman midfielder Jimmy Martinez were the only players who did this season. That number is above average, according to head coach Cameron Rast.
"There's a player or two every year that walks on to the team that comes and proves themselves," he said. "They wanna be here at Santa Clara, they wanna play for the men's soccer program. Their commitment and their dedication to doing that shows in their play."
Walk-on players arrive at Santa Clara without any guarantee to play. Some players are recruited at smaller schools and choose to come to Santa Clara for a chance to play for a bigger program, while others aren't recruited at all.
Having succumbed to a foot injury that kept him off the field for about a month of his senior season in high school, Kwesele began the recruiting process too late to attract attention from Santa Clara and was not recruited.
Arriving as a freshman in the fall of 2004, Rast told Kwesele to play for the club team Santa Clara Sporting during the fall. Then, after the 2004 season concluded, he could try walking onto the Broncos.
"The way I've always done things is just shoot for the highest possible goal," Kwesele said. "Santa Clara represented, to me, everything that I wanted to aspire to."
Kwesele trained with the team in the winter and spring, working towards earning a roster spot. However, at the end of the school year, his status on the team was unknown.
According to Rast, Mutanda settled in with the team, but was not making enough of an impact to be guaranteed a roster spot. He told Kwesele it would be difficult to earn a spot on the team.
However, when the team began training for the upcoming season in August, Kwesele returned to the field prepared to make the Bronco squad.
"Mutanda is a very hard worker, he's very vocal, dedicated," senior defender Jeff Scott said. "I think he brings good spirits to the team and definitely provides something that we need and have been looking for."
Once Kwesele made the team, he kept working hard on the practice field, and was rewarded with an opportunity to play against Portland.
Entering with just five minutes remaining, Kwesele had little time to impact the game. But when he received a pass from senior forward Ryan Wolfe, he saw an opportunity.
Kwesele took the ball down the right side and fired it past the Portland goaltender, scoring his first college goal in his first college game.
"It was a rush, it was amazing," Kwesele said. "I celebrated that one maybe a little bit more than usual just because, for me, it was more than just a goal in a game. It was kind of like going back to the whole experience of walking on. It felt like all the work meant something."
For every story that ends like Kwesele's, many others never materialize.
According to Rast, approximately five to six players every season attempt to walk onto the team and fail. They are directed to play for a club team and try back the following season, as Kwesele did, or are told that they probably will not have the potential to make the team.
"It's difficult," Martinez said, who walked on this year. "You've gotta have the right mindset, you've gotta work and realize your time will come."
Martinez earned his spot on the Broncos this year as a freshman. He said that Santa Clara followed him in high school, but decided not to recruit him.
Walk-on players that successfully make top teams usually have the ability to play college-level soccer, but cannot attract recruiters' attention.
"They maybe don't have that one quality or a couple of qualities that stand out that coaches just feel that they have to have," Rast said. "Sometimes that player that's pretty well rounded can be overlooked. You have to be willing to watch them overtime, work with them and then value that they are a pretty complete player that can offer something to your team."
Martinez has yet to see the field in a game this year, but has not allowed the work ethic that originally earned him a roster spot to falter.
"He brings really good spirit, definitely keeps everyone smiling, everything positive," Scott said.
While Martinez started playing for the Broncos as soon as he arrived at Santa Clara, Jerred O'Connell waited a year before trying to join the squad.
O'Connell said that he decided to try to walk on because, "I just wanted to give it a chance, because if I didn't give it a chance, I'd probably regret it for the rest of my life, so I just wanted to see if I could make it or not."
His former high school coach, Tim Martin, took a position as an assistant coach at Santa Clara, which made O'Connell's transition from walk-on to full-fledged Bronco smoother. Some prodding from a former high school teammate also helped.
"He needed a little push," said sophomore midfielder Matt Hatzke, who was a high school teammate of O'Connell's. "He just needed to get out there and get going."