On the Penn State football team, walk-ons are no longer called walk-ons. They are run-ons. That’s what Bill O’Brien says, anyways.


The coach made the change early in the season to give credit to non-scholarship players on his roster. They hustle, work hard and are as integral to the Nittany Lions’ (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) success as anyone who steps into the Lasch Football complex.


They’ll be even more important soon. Penn State will soon feel the effects of the NCAA’s crippling sanctions, which include 40 scholarship cuts over the next four years.


O’Brien needs players - committed, gritty, overachievers willing to give it their all to a team not headed to the postseason for the next four years

Where can O’Brien find these run-ons and how will he utilize them? There’s a good model already in place, and it will be found on the opposing side of Memorial Stadium on Saturday.


Nebraska’s history is rich with feel-good walk-on stories. Tom Osborne created the model in the 1970s and it flourished, a backbone to Osborne’s incredibly successful 25 year tenure.

It’s a simple pitch: convince in-state kids who did not get a FBS offer or did not feel comfortable accepting one to be a Cornhusker. Convince those kids, many from small towns, that the sacrifice to play for the red “N” on the helmet is worth it.


“Whether it was Coach Pelini or Tom Osborne or Frank Solich when he was there,  they've done a good job of making sure that they bring in kids,” O’Brien said. “Whether they're scholarship kids or run‑on guys, that they're going to be good players for them.  They develop them in practice.”


That’s just what O’Brien wants - well, needs - to do over the next four years. So he’s trying to find out the best way to do it.


“Personally I will reach out to some of those coaches or athletic directors and see how exactly they went about doing that,” O’Brien said, adding it is part of “professional development” for him as a first-year head coach.


In fact, O’Brien said he and his staff have already contacted some schools to pick their brains about walk-on programs.

O’Brien wouldn’t say which school, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to many if Nebraska was on the list.

-Emily Kaplan