Kirby Smart’s next trick: Beefing up UGA’s walk-on program

New inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann (center) will oversee a revamped walk-on program at UGA.

UGA has welcomed another preferred walk-on from Burke County to the program. Caleeb Roberson  might have been good enough to earn a scholarship at the FCS level. Given the ability he flashed in high school, he could’ve been an impact player in Division I-AA football.

Roberson will attend UGA as a preferred walk-on, but there’s more here than the program adding a dual-threat who ran and threw for more than 1,000 yards in multiple seasons. He will add depth at running back when he hits the practice field. He stands about six feet tall and weighs 180 pounds so he’ll need to put on weight, too.

The wide angle at work is an example of how Kirby Smart will explore every available resource to augment the talent on the roster. He’s revamping things daily in recruiting scholarship players, but the staff will now squeeze all it can out of the walk-on program, too.

“Coach (Glenn) Schumann at Georgia called me up a few weeks ago,” Burke County coach Eric Parker said. “He introduced himself and told me what he did with the walk-on program at Alabama. They probably had one of the better walk-on programs in the country. When he came over from Alabama to coach inside linebackers, Kirby kind of told him oh by the way he wanted him to keep doing what he was doing at Alabama with the walk-ons at Georgia.”

Burke County senior quarterback Caleeb Roberson will be a preferred walk-on at UGA this fall. (Larry Smith/ Burke County High School)

Schumann knew the player folks in Waynesboro know as “Scoot” was still unsigned.

“He then kind of broke down their new walk-on philosophy,” Parker said. “I think you are going to see more stories like this coming out of Georgia because of the philosophy change there with walk-ons under Kirby. They are going to try real hard to get some of these I-AA kids or Division II kids and ask them instead of going somewhere else and paying out-of-pocket to play to instead look to walk-on at Georgia.”

Roberson earned repeat all-region quarterback honors this year. Parker said his lateral movement and short-space quickness “is as good as anybody. ” That’s the scouting stuff, but UGA’s pitch was more about finances.

“He said If you go I-AA or Division II out-of-state you won’t get to use your Hope (Scholarship) money,” Parker said. “That out-of-state school will package you up some academic money, but you’re going to get left paying more money than you would if you walked on at Georgia, used your Pell Grant and Hope Scholarship money. Apparently now in NCAA Division I they can pay for the walk-ons to eat. I think that’s all you can do, but he can eat. So financially it made sense and then obviously getting to go to a Power 5 school also made a lot of sense.”

Parker tried to make sure Roberson understood he must constantly impress in practice to get any consideration for playing time. He also made it clear walk-ons are basically extra practice bodies.

“But there are stories all over the place where walk-ons have gone in and showed that grit and determination and made something out of it,” Parker said. “One of the reasons Coach Schumann said they like having walk-ons around is that at a place like Georgia and Alabama they are going to get kids leaving early and transferring out and through the sheer numbers and war of attrition that comes with football they sometimes rely on walk-ons by the time they get to be juniors and seniors for a lot of things in the locker room like leadership.”

Those players still chiefly funnel to scout teams, but they also build depth in spring and fall camp after NFL early entries, rehabs or transfers. Talented walk-ons make the scholarship players better in practice. A strong walk-on program has multiple candidates that are deserving of scholarships.

“Scoot” was Burke County’s top prospect last summer, but dislocated his shoulder and tore his labrum during a 7-on-7 event. He avoided surgery to preserve his senior season.

“He was in and out of the lineup but boy he gave us as much guts as he had,” Parker said. “He had some great games, but two games he left to go to the emergency room to have his shoulder put back in place. He was probably a shell of himself by game 10. But he had done everything right. Great kid. Great academics. Honor roll kid. He’ll be an honor graduate.”

The offers he had from I-AA disappeared. A mid-major I-A program or two liked him as a defensive back. UGA saw his film. They told Parker he had a nice burst, but that he didn’t have the top end speed (4.6 in the 40) that merits offer consideration.

“What they are thinking is they want to put some weight on him,” Parker said. “They want to start him out as maybe a scout team type running back and if that doesn’t work then he will probably float somewhere else. I told him to go in there and show them you can do anything they need.”  

Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite

Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.

 

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