Georgia football walk-ons Kolby Wyatt and Kaustov Chakrabarti’s longshot paths to the lineup and roster have been altered by the coronavirus pandemic.
With social distancing and shelter-in-place orders, it was going to be difficult for all athletes to prepare for their respective teams, but for walk-ons, there is an added level of anxiety because of their already tenuous status.
“You really never have job security, but especially not right now,” said Wyatt. “So, you just have to stay ready as we all play it by ear.”
UGA holds open tryouts for walk-on positions where players generally serve as competition in practice to better the overall team and possibly add depth to the roster. Notable walk-ons who have found success include NFL players Justin Hardy, Baker Mayfield, and J.J. Watt.
Wyatt said that much like the pros, this time has increased his sense of self-motivation. Though he has made a handful of in-game appearances, Wyatt regrets not adopting this mentality earlier on in his career.
“I was so wrapped up in being angry at my position that it blocked me from getting better which would’ve ultimately gotten me on the field sooner,” Wyatt said.
The junior has had his share of making adjustments. He started his collegiate career at Georgia after being recognized as senior athlete of the year at Shiloh High School. He redshirted at defensive line his freshman year before being moved to tight end.
“You’re coming in and you’re not being paid as much attention,” Wyatt said. “Everything you hope to get accomplished; you kind of have to do on your own. We were the stars of our high school just like the four-star recruits, but you come to Georgia and everyone is a star.”
Chakrabarti, who’s 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, is a late-bloomer who started playing football as a senior at Parkview High, one of Georgia’s storied prep football powerhouses.
He has overcome a great deal of personal grief with the passing of both of his parents.
His father committed suicide while his mother, passed away a year later from breast cancer. Chakrabarti was living day-by-day trying to survive, stressing in between classes on where he would stay that night to avoid homelessness.
“I just looked at myself asking what I was doing and thought there just has to be more to life than just struggle,” Chakrabarti said. “You go through it for sure, everyone goes through it, but I just had to go through it at an earlier age.”
After finding support within his community, Chakrabarti graduated with a full academic scholarship to UGA. With guidance from some of the coaches, after nine intense months of training, in February, he earned a spot on the team.
During this uncertain time, isolation has come with benefits.
“There’s always something you can be doing to get better. Get a jump rope, do some ladders to get better with your footwork,” Wyatt said.
Between workouts, Chakrabarti speaks with teammates and coaches at his position every day via Zoom calls as they study game footage.
“Me being the new guy, it really helps to try and strengthen those relationships, especially now, and show how dedicated and seriously I take my role on the team,” Chakrabarti said.
Though the timetable for the season is still speculative, to maintain their position, the best ability anyone has to offer is their commitment towards self-improvement.
“All you can do at this point is stay ready,” Wyatt said. “Sometimes, the [starter] is just better and you have to be able to look at yourself and ask yourself that. Even if they are, your focus should be trying to get better every single day. That should be your only goal and only purpose.”
Even with the world at a standstill, sports continue to illustrate the importance in making the most of an opportunity. For Wyatt and Chakrabarti, it is this personal introspection that can help to elevate their status and playing futures as soon as the team is reunited.
This story is by Alex English of the Grady Sports Bureau, which is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.