A Desire to Play The Game: UNH Football Walk-Ons

There are 101 players on the University of New Hampshire football team and 63 athletic scholarships allowed by the Division I Football Championship Subdivision’s Colonial Athletic Conference.

While the UNH football program distributes both full and partial scholarships to its student athletes, many earn non-scholarship spots on the roster via recruitment or tryouts.

These players are known as walk-ons. They’re driven to play for the love of the game.

Andrew Drazin

When Andrew Drazin was entering his senior year at Hollis-Brookline High School, he knew he wanted to play college football and UNH was his top choice. The tight/end linebacker took the recruiting process into his own hands.

“I’d give them a call once a week just to say ‘Hi, hows it going,’ just to let them know that UNH was my No. 1 school,” Drazin said. “I knew I wasn’t a full-scholarship guy, but I told them that if anybody gets hurt, I’d be up there as soon as possible.”

Drazin’s persistence got him a call from Wildcats head coach Sean McDonnell, who invited him to camp as a freshman.

“That was a real intense experience. Going into it I didn’t realize how good some of the athletes were,” said Drazin. “Growing up I was always one of the better athletes, and I found I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was.”

The physicality of the college-level practice hit Drazin hard.

“I got knocked around a bunch, I was a small skinny 18-year-old guy getting knocked around by 22-year-olds,” he said. “It was pretty intimidating; that got me down a little bit, the level of competition.”

Up until the eighth game of his junior season, Drazin hadn’t seen the field. But that changed during the 2010 Colonial Clash against UMass at Gillette Stadium.

Andrew Drazin’s first college game. (Courtesy Photo/Andrew Drazin)

“I was really nervous,” Drazin said, “I remember putting my hand down on the ground and my whole upper body was shaking.”

Drazin’s first game experience came on the Minutemen’s last offensive drive when UNH had the game in hand.

“That was quite an experience that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” Drazin said.

Drazin played played in a total of two games his junior year, recording one tackle. But a torn labrum ended his senior season before it started.

“It kind of stunk,” said Drazin, “I feel that I would have maybe been able to go in and play and get in the rotation. I think I was getting to that point where I was big and strong enough to be able to do that.”

The Hollis, N.H., native was a redshirt junior at the time, which meant he had one year of football eligibility remaining. Yet as a non-scholarship player set to graduate in May of 2012, that would have also meant another semester of college tuition.

“I had a good run,” Drazin said. “It was time to stop.”

Jim Earley

While Drazin’s football career at UNH was drawing to a close, Jim Earley‘s was just beginning.

It took two tryouts for Jim Earley to make the UNH football team. (Image via UNHWildcats.com)

In 2010, Earley was freshman at UNH and one of roughly 15 players trying out for the football team.

“I didn’t make it,” Earley said, “I decided, hey you know what? I just need to put more work in it.”

Earley put the extra work in, and after a second tryout that spring, the coaching staff told him “see you next summer.” The former Division V lineman at Bishop Brady had made the cut.

“I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say,” said Earley, “I was like, ‘O.K.’”

Once summer arrived, Earley was back in Durham practicing with the Wildcats and the same reality Drazin experienced had begun to set in.

“I felt overwhelmed and that I had to prove something,” Earley said. “Everybody was bigger and stronger, and they all came from very successful backgrounds.”

Earley had to get stronger in order to compete. He did.

“I think I graduated high school [at] about, I want to say 150 [pounds] and since then I think I’ve put on 30 pounds,” said Earley, who eats six meals per day in between classes and his four-hour football practice.

For Earley, however, it’s not just about bulking up. As a walk-on, his effort in practice is critical to whether or not he travels to away games with the team.

“If I don’t have a great week of practice, there’s a good chance I’m not going to be able to travel,” Earley said. “If I do extraordinary and show the coaches that I’m ready to go, then they’ll give me a chance to travel.”

Seth Sheridan

While Drazin and Earley landed spots on the UNH football team as unrecruited walk-ons, the journey of recruited walk-on Seth Sheridan is no less of an underdog story.

Seth Sheridan’s injuries couldn’t keep him away from the game. (Image via UNHWildcats.com)

During the seventh game of his senior year at Oakmont Regional High School in Ashburnham, Mass., Sheridan avoided a tackler and his right knee locked up.

Sheridan tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. His hopes of playing college football were in serious jeopardy.

“Most schools stopped looking my way,” said Sheridan. “I became a risk and it came down to who would take the risk.”

Following surgery, the then-running back spent over half a year trying to regain his ability to cut laterally. By the time he got healthy, Sheridan decided to take a post-graduate year at Bridgton Academy in North Bridgton, Maine, where he played wide receiver.

But during a summer camp scrimmage with the Wolverines, Sheridan blew out his other knee.

Months later, he was back at the gym doing squats to build up strength in his quads when he felt a pop.

Sheridan had re-torn the meniscus in his right knee.

“It was at this point I had a lot of people tell me I should look at different things other than football in life and that it just wasn’t meant to be,” Sheridan said. “But I still wasn’t ready to give up.”

After having three surgeries in two years, Sheridan was back on the field the next fall and his play warranted attention from UNH.

He accepted the non-scholarship offer to play football for the Wildcats.

“It means the world to me,” said Sheridan, who is redshirting his freshman year. “I work hard to help the team out in any way I can. I do hope to become a top player in the near future but if it doesn’t happen I’ll continue to work hard and do whatever I can for the team.”

Waiting for Their Moment

Their stories differ, but Andrew Drazin, Jim Earley and Seth Sheridan all share an unconditional passion for the game of football.

“A lot of guys who are walk-ons put in just as much work as the guys who are full-scholarship,” said Drazin. “They’re just preparing for their time to get on the field as well.”

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Leftovers from Interview with Former UNH Walk-on Andrew Drazin

Andrew Drazin was a member of the UNH football team from 2008 to 2011. The former linebacker and defensive end recently talked about experience as a Wildcat.

Here are some leftover notes from his interview:

On how he became a member of the football program: “I was brought into the fold. I talked to the head coach [Sean McDonnell] a few times before and I talked to my recruiting coach who was the quarterbacks coach [Tim Cramsey]. My recruiting coach kind of put in the good word for me. I was thrown into everything.”

On walk-ons earning roster spots: “If you work hard and can make it through the practices and want to be there, you usually end up staying. Some guys just decide its not for them.”

On his motivation to succeed as a walk-on: “I always wanted to get to the point where I could get maybe a partial scholarship or full scholarship. I wanted to prove to [the coaches] and the guys around me that I could play at this level. That’s what kind of drove me.”

On what he misses most about being on the team: “The camaraderie,  just being around the guys and everybody focusing on the goal of winning, making it to the playoffs or even the national championship.”

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Former UNH Walk-On Andrew Drazin Reflects On Football Career

Andrew Drazin wanted to get his name out there. He wanted to play college football.

In the spring of his junior year at Hollis-Brookline High School, Drazin was one step closer to making that happen. His high school coach set up a meeting for him with then-University of New Hampshire quarterbacks coach Tim Cramsey.

This meeting gave the tight end/linebacker an opportunity to miss his chemistry class, as well as an opportunity to get in good graces with a member of the UNH coaching staff.

“Coach [Cramsey] was real professional and I liked him a lot,” Drazin said.

Still, Drazin knew he’d have to stick in the coaches’ minds in order to have a chance to play for them one day.

The summer heading into his senior year, Drazin attended football combines and spoke with some Division II and III college coaches. In addition, he attended UNH’s high school football camp; and he left impressed.

At the time, Drazin was considering UNH, Bryant University and Salve Regina University. He took the process into his own hands.

“I called the coaches and asked him questions just so they knew who I was,” said Drazin, “I took it upon myself.”

UNH, however, was the program atop his list.

“I’d give them a call once a week just to say ‘Hi, hows it going,’ just to let them know that UNH was my No. 1 school,” Drazin said. “I knew I wasn’t a full-scholarship guy, but I told them that if anybody gets hurt, I’d be up there as soon as possible.”

Drazin enrolled at UNH for the 2008 school year. Although, he did not know if he’d be playing football until he received a phone call.

It was head coach Sean McDonnell.

“He said that somebody didn’t come back this year and he invited me to come up to camp,” Drazin said.

Before Drazin knew it, he was thrust into practice.

Andrew Drazin. (Via UNHWildcats.com)

“That was a real intense experience. Going into it I didn’t realize how good some of the athletes were,” said Drazin. “Growing up I was always one of the better athletes, and I found I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was.”

That reality came quick as camp grew physical.

“I got knocked around a bunch, I was a small skinny 18-year-old guy getting knocked around by 22-year-olds,” he said. “It was pretty intimidating; that got me down a little bit, the level of competition.”

With talented depth at tight end already on the roster, Drazin made the complete transition to linebacker and was redshirted for his freshman season.

Then, his sophomore year came and went. Drazin did not play in a game.

But by his junior year, Drazin was putting on weight from all the lifting. He was told he might have a better shot at playing if he converted to defensive end.

“I was running in the morning and the head coach wanted to see me,” said Drazin. “They said they wanted to make the switch right now. I did whatever I could do to help the team,” he added.

Through the first seven games of his junior season, Drazin hadn’t played a down. Yet on Oct. 23, 2010, that changed.

The Wildcats had built a lead against the UMass Minutemen in the Colonial Clash at Gillette Stadium. And late in the fourth quarter, Coach McDonnell told Drazin to go in.

“I was really nervous,” Drazin said, “I remember putting my hand down on the ground and my whole upper body was shaking.”

The Colonial Clash against UMass in 2010 marked the first game of Andrew Drazin’s (No. 50) collegiate career. (Courtesy Photo/Andrew Drazin).

Those first snaps still resonate with Drazin.

“That was quite an experience that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” he said.

Three games later against the Towson Tigers, Drazin did more than play. He notched his first collegiate tackle.

“It was Towson’s fullback who I tackled,” said Drazin. “I had seen him earlier in the game, he kind of ran over a few of our guys. I remember getting past their offensive tackle and then I got him down, [I think] for no gain. I was pretty happy about that.”

Drazin never played in another game.

During preseason camp in 2011, Drazin tore the labrum in his left shoulder. He sat out for two weeks before the team doctor told him that he needed surgery.

“It kind of stunk,” said Drazin, “I feel that I would have maybe been able to go in and play and get in the rotation. I think I was getting to that point where I was big and strong enough to be able to do that.”

Drazin was a redshirt junior, which meant that he was eligible for a fifth season of football. But that plan was simply not in the cards.

“I was still non-scholarship going into my senior year, so that would have been another semester’s tuition I had to pay,” Drazin said. “I had a good run; it was time to stop.”

Andrew Drazin is now a year removed from the game. He finished his college career with two games played and one recorded tackle.

But the one thing numbers do not measure is effort.

“A lot of guys who are walk-ons put in just as much work as the guys who are full-scholarship,” he said. “They’re just preparing for their time to get on the field as well.”

Looking back on it all, would he do it over again?

“I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Drazin, “I met a lot of great people, learned a lot about myself, and I have some great memories that will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

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Recruited Walk-On Seth Sheridan Explains Why He’s a Wildcat

Having undergone three surgeries since his senior year of high school, Seth Sheridan was given a chance to join the UNH football team as a recruited walk-on this season.

The freshman wide receiver from Ashburnham, Mass., is currently redshirted for the 2012 campaign, but he’s just grateful to have an opportunity to play football in the aftermath of serious knee injuries.

Here are some leftovers from Sheridan’s interview:

On his unwavering drive to play football after blowing out both knees: “My family, especially my parents, my true friends, and the few people who stood behind me through it all. I guess my injuries fueled me. The injuries were trials in my life but at the same time a lesson in motivation and overcoming adversity. Since I was a little kid the game has meant so much to me and has not lessened over time.  Being sidelined helped me realize this even more. I wanted to play again, that’s what drove me. I always felt I was close to something big and that’s what kept me pushing forward. I believed that if I quit or gave up then I would always think of what ‘could have been.’ I never let adversity keep me from doing what I love doing. When you don’t give up, you cannot fail, no matter what the outcome.”

On why he decided on playing football at UNH: “Coach [Sean McDonnell] is a great coach who is known to be dedicated to the football program and to those who play for him. He can really bring out the best in you. His personal efforts in contacting me directly, as part of the recruiting process, meant a lot and was probably the most motivating factor in my decision of where to play. The location was also a plus.”

On his role as a recruited walk-on: “I work hard to help the team out in any way I can. I do hope to become a top player in the near future but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll continue to work hard and do whatever I can for the team.”

On what it means to be a member of the UNH football team: “I take a lot of pride in this team, and my teammates have become like my brothers. I have never been around a group of people who want to win more than these guys. Not just the desire to win, but a winning attitude as well.  I am proud to be a part of it all and thankful to wake up every day and have the honor of representing a great organization, state, and be a part of a true brotherhood.”

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Overcoming Injury: UNH Wideout Seth Sheridan Battles Back to Football

Seth Sheridan began playing football at age nine. Little did he know how far the game would take him.

When Sheridan was 12 years old and growing up in Ashburnham, Mass., his skills started to flourish. At that time, his parents told him that he had the talent to play in the top tier of college football.

“I always had confidence, but I never really believed [them] until I was 17 and started to attract various recruiters from around New England,” Sheridan said. “Once the recruiters showed interest in me, I figured I was good enough to play at the collegiate level and continued to work hard toward that goal.”

Seth Sheridan’s drive to play college football is years in the making. (Courtesy Photo/Seth Sheridan)

Then, it happened.

During the seventh game of his senior year at Oakmont Regional High School, Sheridan dodged a tackler and his right knee buckled underneath him.

He tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. Just like that, Sheridan saw college football opportunities evade him.

“I learned just how much the game of football is also a business, and my resume of injuries was holding me back,” he said. “Most schools stopped looking my way. I became a risk and it came down to who would take the risk.”

Following surgery, Sheridan faced a six to nine month timetable of recovery. So in order to regain interest of college recruiters, the speedy tailback opted for a post-graduate year at Bridgton Academy in North Bridgton, Maine.

With the Wolverines, Sheridan transitioned to the wide receiver position and was at a level of play conducive to recruiting exposure.

But during a summer camp scrimmage, it happened again.

“I blew out my left knee,” said Sheridan. “Ironically, it was the exact same thing as the first injury. I ended up leaving Bridgton and coming home for the semester to rehab and focus on what I wanted to do with life.”

Sheridan underwent surgery for a second time to repair the damage. Still, he was determined not to let his medical misfortune stop him from achieving his dream.

A few months later, he was back at the gym doing squats in order to build up strength in his quads.

He felt a pop.

It was all too familiar, Sheridan had re-torn the meniscus in his right knee. He was slated for yet another surgery and months of rehab.

“It was at this point I had a lot of people tell me I should look at different things other than football in life and that it just wasn’t meant to be,” Sheridan said. “But I still wasn’t ready to give up.”

Sheridan’s doctor told him he’d likely lose a step after undergoing his third surgery in two years.

“I was determined to prove him wrong and everybody else who doubted me,” Sheridan said.

After completing a rigorous self-developed workout program, Sheridan’s doctor cleared him to play football once again.

In the fall of 2011, the well-traveled student athlete returned to Bridgton, where he enjoyed a successful campaign on the field and graduated that December.

At this time, colleges once again started to take notice of Sheridan’s abilities. One school in particular stood above the rest: the University of New Hampshire.

UNH head football coach Sean McDonnell reached out to Sheridan about the possibility of playing for the Wildcats. And for Sheridan, it was an offer that he couldn’t refuse.

“I remember being a little kid turning on the TV and watching UNH play on Saturdays,” Sheridan said, “telling myself, ‘if I ever get an opportunity to play up there I will not turn it down.’ Little did I know that chance would come.”

A recruited walk-on for the Wildcats, Seth Sheridan is now a freshman sitting out 2012 season as a redshirt. Although the opportunity to play college football is not something the 6’1″ pass-catcher takes lightly.

“It means the world to me,” he said. “Even though I have made it to this level, I do feel like I still have more to prove—to myself and the football program.”

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Stay Tuned: Interview with UNH Recruited Walk-On Seth Sheridan

Devastating knee injuries put Seth Sheridan‘s football career in limbo before he even entered college. But instead of moving on from the game, the Ashburnham, Mass., wide receiver opted for a comeback.

Now, he is a member of the UNH Wildcats football team.

Over the next week, Sheridan’s story will be told, so stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, here are some football highlights from Sheridan’s high school and prep school career.

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‘Never Get Outworked’ Motto Fuels UNH Tailback Jim Earley

In the fall of 2010, Jim Earley was a freshman at UNH and one of roughly 15 players trying out for the football team. At the time, however, the center-turned running back was not good enough to make the cut.

But after a second tryout that spring, the hard work had paid off for the Bishop Brady product. By summer, the 5’10″, 179-pound native of Hopkinton, N.H., was back in Durham practicing with the Wildcats.

“I felt overwhelmed and that I had to prove something,” Earley said. “Everybody was bigger and stronger, and they all came from very successful backgrounds.”

Jim Earley’s blue-collar mentality has fit in with the blue-collar UNH football team. (Photo/Oliver Thomas)

On a deep roster of 100 players, the unrecruited walk-on knew he had to earn his keep through effort.

“I felt like I had to live up to the standard that the team had,” the 20-year-old said, “I couldn’t act like a center from a small school.”

As a blue-collar player on a blue-collar team, Earley was quick to buy into the program’s motto, “never get outworked.” And with the likes of Nico Steriti, Chris Setian and Jimmy Owens ahead of him on the depth chart, Earley has had to do just that.

On the 2012 campaign, Steriti, Setian and Owens have combined for 266 carries out of the backfield. In contrast, Earley has seen one carry.

“We have a lot of talent, but the one thing we pride ourselves on is our hard work, and that’s what makes UNH what we are,” Earley said.

Earley was redshirted as a sophomore in 2011 and has three years of football eligibility remaining. He may never be a lead back for UNH, but Earley knows he can be a spark plug for his teammates.

“I like to think that as I work hard, my teammates follow the same attitude,” said Earley, “kind of just pick people up one by one and get them all with the same mindset.”

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