Opposite pages of the 2003 University of New Mexico football media guide sum up both the calculated risk and the self-reliance involved in the challenge Osbourn Park defensive back Roberto Castillo is about to undertake.
One page touts the proud tradition of Lobo walk-ons, which will be Castillo's status when he reports to the Albuquerque school this month. The other is a U.S. map that shows that only one of last year's players hailed from an Eastern state.
"Every time I say [I'm going to] New Mexico, it's either, 'Wow, that's far!' or 'What made you decide to go out there?' " said Castillo, who figures it's about 38 hours by car to Albuquerque from his Manassas home. "I don't have [any] ideas of coming home or anything. My goal right now . . . is of earning that scholarship and showing them what I can do."
Castillo is not alone in his ambitions. In fact, it has been a while since so many Prince William County football players from the same graduating class headed off to so many different campuses with hopes of earning a roster spot on a Division I college football team.
Among them, besides Castillo, are Stonewall Jackson wide receiver Malcolm Ames (Marshall), Hylton receiver-defensive back Deon Butler (Penn State), Osbourn offensive lineman-long snapper Derrick Duke (Alabama) and Gar-Field tight end-linebacker Greg Tekampe (Virginia). The goal is to join fellow 2004 graduates Zak Stair (Osbourn Park) and Clint Sintim (Gar-Field), both University of Virginia signees who secured scholarships while still in high school.
Despite such descriptions as "invited" or "preferred" walk-on, the players are guaranteed nothing beyond an opportunity to prove that they can succeed at the Division I level, where each school is allotted 85 scholarships. Teams can have as many as 105 players report to camp, including walk-ons, with more players allowed after school starts.
The area walk-on players believe they will get the same opportunity to show their skills as the scholarship players, even though the schools have a lot more time and money invested in the bona fide recruits.
"I feel like once I'm in the camp, I'm going to be just another guy," Castillo said.
For now, the walk-ons pay their own way, try to stiff-arm an inferiority complex and maybe watch inspirational walk-on movie "Rudy" once or twice.
Butler and Tekampe hail from high schools that already have scholarship players in Division I. But until offensive lineman Stair committed, the Manassas schools did not share that distinction. That makes Castillo, Duke and Ames torch bearers of a sort for their community.
Castillo was recruited by Division II and III schools such as Virginia-Wise, Shepherd and Bridgewater. But he had grander ideas after intercepting 10 passes last season for a 9-3 team, including three in a Northwestern Region Division 6 playoff win over Franklin County. He got interested in New Mexico early this year when a family friend with connections to the Lobos program encouraged him to send game film to the coaches there.
Soon, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Castillo was reading about himself on a Lobos fan Web site and got a phone call from a team representative. A spring break visit to the campus sealed the deal.
Now he uses "we" when referring to the program and already is itching for the nationally televised season opener against Washington State. His Lobos cap and T-shirt declare his allegiance.
"This is the level I wanted to play at," said Castillo, whose mother, Bonnie, has family in Pueblo, Colo., about four hours north of Albuquerque. "I wasn't a Division I player my junior year because I had to work on a couple of things, but I got better at them. If I was good enough to do it, I wanted to do it, and I felt I was good enough to do it. . . . I'm excited to get over there and see what I can do."
Bonnie Castillo said they sent tapes to West Virginia, East Carolina, Connecticut and Colorado State and heard back from none of those schools. New Mexico, the only Division I-A school in the country to increase its win total each of the past five seasons, did respond.
"[They] told me, 'If we weren't going to put time and effort into you, then we wouldn't be talking to you right now,' " said Castillo, who expects to redshirt his freshman year. "The coach told me that I have a chance of earning a scholarship as soon as next year. They told me either you work hard and get what you earn, or you don't get anything. I'm going with the attitude I'm going to work my butt off to get a scholarship."
According to the New Mexico media guide, since 1998, 14 walk-on players have earned scholarships. Five served as team captains in a three-year span. Two walk-ons, Jarrod Baxter and Joe Maese, were drafted by NFL teams.
Osbourn graduate Duke grew up enamored of the University of Alabama, where his father attended. Regardless of Derrick's football intentions, the Navy family planned to move to Alabama after Duke graduated from high school.
But even if they hadn't, Tuscaloosa was where Duke yearned to play.
"It was the best thing that ever happened -- because I didn't have to play at Auburn," Duke said half-jokingly in reference to his flirtations with the Crimson Tide's in-state rival, a courtship that ended the second that Alabama special teams coach Dave Ungerer responded to the four tapes Duke had sent to Crimson Tide personnel.
"I was just in shock and awe," the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Duke said this week by phone after a long-snapping practice; he also is taking a class at Alabama this summer. "[Ungerer] was telling me I had a good chance to play. . . . I don't feel like an outsider. I'm going to have all the benefits and opportunities of a scholarship player, just no tuition [money] right now."
"We looked around in Virginia because they're all good schools," said Duke's mother, Denise. "But it just doesn't have the same flavor as Alabama football. There's lots of tradition and stuff [in Virginia], but the whole Bear Bryant thing. . . . Football down here is a way of life."
The fact that Alabama is on probation and strapped for bodies could enhance Duke's chances of earning a spot on the team. The Crimson Tide lost three-year long snapper Nick Ridings and backup Jonathan Brunson off last year's team. According to a March story in the Birmingham News, none of the three players working at that position in spring drills was even on the roster last season.
Stonewall's Ames, who said he was contacted by larger schools, opted for Marshall in part because of the school's Higher Education for Learning Problems (HELP) program; he has trouble processing information and taking tests. Stonewall Coach Loren Johnson knew Marshall tight ends coach Shaine Miles from their days at Virginia Tech.
The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Ames, who played in an all-star game earlier this month in Youngstown, Ohio, was also a track standout for the Raiders. In the Prince William area this past outdoor track season, he ran the third-fastest time in the 400 meters (50.31 seconds) and notched the third-longest triple jump (42 feet, 111/2 inches).
Ames's father, also named Malcolm, said that had his son done better on the SAT, he believes that Marshall might have given him a scholarship instead of an invitation to walk on. Either way, the younger Ames is confident of a happy ending.
"I didn't want to be a little fish in a big pond, I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond," said Ames, who took a HELP course this summer on the Huntington, W.Va., campus. "Coach Shaine said probably in the fall or mid-spring he's going to be talking to me about a scholarship. It's going to happen."