Men's Basketball

In the Shadows: Walk-ons Make Impact Behind the Scenes

Nick Schultz | The PhoenixChristian Negron (far right) cheers on the Loyola men's basketball team alongside walk-ons Dylan Boehm (far left), Will Alcock and Jake Baughman.

At the end of the Loyola men’s basketball bench sit three players who rarely take off their warm-ups: junior Jake Baughman, sophomore Dylan Boehm and first-year Will Alcock. They’re all walk-ons, but just because they don’t often see the court, doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact. 

A walk-on is a player who becomes part of the team without necessarily being recruited beforehand. Loyola has 10 scholarship players on the roster, but that doesn’t stop other players from joining the team. It just means those players who choose to walk on don’t get the same financial help as those 10 scholarship players. 

There are many reasons to join a team, and money isn’t always one. Baughman, Boehm and Alcock all said they decided to walk on for various reasons, but one underlying one — the love for the game. 

“I had a family friend through [head coach Porter Moser],” Baughman said. “[I got] connected with coach and told him I want to play at the highest level I can. So, he had me up here on a visit and showed me around and then offered me a preferred walk-on spot.” 

Boehm said, practice is the biggest area the roles between scholarship players and walk-ons are different. The three walk-ons are on the “gold team” in practice, which he said is considered the scout team. They run the opponent’s plays in order to prepare the starters for the game. 

Then, in practice, they make a huge impact to the way the game goes. Moser said their preparation in practice plays a substantial role in the game because they play multiple parts while sitting on the bench. 

“We have them where they have to be vocal,” Moser said. “If they recognize something they have to yell out the play we talk about when things aren’t going our way they have to be an energy giver.” 

During the game, the three of them can be seen cheering louder than even some of the fans. They’re often the first ones out of their seats when someone scores or makes a big play. Alcock said that’s one of the most fun parts of the game, getting to be a “hype man” for the team. 

Out of the three walk-ons, two of them are considered preferred walk-ons — Baughman and Alcock. Typically a walk-on is someone who tries out for the team and earns a spot on the roster. In the case of a preferred walk-on, they wouldn’t have to try out, but are offered a spot on the roster. 

Flip channels and you’ll miss them play. Most recently Alcock and Baughman came in with 16.1 seconds left in the second half of Loyola’s big win Tuesday night against Valparaiso University.

Balancing school and practice is a difficult task for any student-athlete, but when you don’t have the financial aid, Boehm said it can be even harder. He said because he’s paying for school, he has to put in all his effort into his classes as well as practice, so he can never slack off. 

“We all knew coming in we weren’t going to have financial athletic scholarships but because we wanted to do this, it’s what [we’ve] got to do,” Boehm said. “It’s definitely not an easy task when you’re in the gym for as many hours as we are a day and you have homework and classes. At the end of the day, we signed up for this we wanted to do this.” 

The practice and school life balance can weigh pretty hard on some athletes. Baughman said during his first year at Loyola, he had a lot of up-and-down moments and even considered quitting the team because it started to be too much. 

“I thought about it a lot, ‘Wow, this is a lot of work. Do I really want to do this for another three to four years?’” Baughman said. “Then last year, the success we had made me realize this is why I do what I do. This is why at practice I put in all those hours because this is my dream to play in the NCAA Tournament, let alone all the way to the Final Four.”

Despite the differences in financial aid, the two sets of players don’t act any differently toward each other. Boehm said no matter where a person was on the roster everyone treated each other like family. 

“Chemistry-wise and getting along wise-everyone is the same,” Boehm said. “There’s no difference between being a walk on or being a scholarship guy being a starting guy. We all get along pretty well which is one of the reasons we find success when it comes to differences in practice.”

The trio will play a key role as Missouri Valley Conference play heats up. The Ramblers are scheduled to take on Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana Jan 19.

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