I used to rub grass on my thigh pads to create the illusion that
I played college football. Otherwise, my white game pants glowed
phosphorescently. My ruse was spotted by an 11-year-old
autograph seeker after one game. "Wait for the real players," he
said, nudging a friend.
There will never be a motion picture about my exploits as a
walk-on wide receiver at the University of Arizona. Unlike Rudy
Ruettiger, whose walk-on career at Notre Dame was immortalized
in the 1993 film Rudy, I was not hoisted and carried off the
field after my final game. What I carried off the field was a
sense of humor, which is a requirement for a walk-on. I am now a
master of self-deprecation.
My walk-on odyssey began on a February afternoon in 1990. I was
seated among two dozen other hopefuls in the seats of the empty
McKale Center, the basketball arena, on Arizona's Tucson campus.
Graduate assistant Jeff Sanchez, a consensus All-America
defensive back at Georgia in 1984, looked at me before the
tryout and said, "I'm going to make you trip."
"No, you won't," I replied nervously.
Thirty minutes later Sanchez made good on his prediction. I was
in his backpedaling drill, and I tripped. As it turned out, I
tripped my way onto the Arizona football team. The next day my
name was posted on a bulletin board near coach Dick Tomey's
office; I was one of six walk-ons who had made it onto the
squad. I was assigned cell number 100 in the back of the locker
room, near a darkened nook that the walk-ons referred to as the
In spring practice I was on equal footing (not really) with the
other players. But when August workouts arrived, I was relegated
to the scout team, a collection of human tackling dummies for
our budding Desert Swarm defense. The scout team ran the plays
of our upcoming opponent. You can learn a lot from a dummy. One
week I was Cal wideout Sean Dawkins; the next, one of Washington
State quarterback Drew Bledsoe's receivers.
Sometimes we ran the same play over and over until our defense
got it right. (This occurred when a linebacker hammered me like
the anvil that falls on Wile E. Coyote.) I wasn't a walk-on. I
was a walked-upon.
I dressed for home games in a nameless jersey with a number
already being worn by another player (number 14 for two years
and number 89 my last year). "Did you play?" I am often asked.
"Did you catch a pass?" I suited up for 21 games and saw action
in one--actually, on only one play.
On Sept. 28, 1991, in the closing seconds of a 45-21 win over
Long Beach State--a school that, I remind people, no longer
plays football--a 5'11", 170-pound string-bean receiver for
Arizona stepped onto the field. In the huddle I wanted to tell
backup quarterback Billy Owens, "Throw it deep." I didn't.
Instead he handed off to the running back, and time expired. I
stood on the field dumbfounded that I actually had played.
I raced home to watch the tape-delayed game on local television,
and I erupted when my roommate, a fellow walk-on receiver named
Willie Philbin, was mentioned by one of the announcers: "There's
a 22 out there, but that's not [inside linebacker Mike] Scurlock."
My moment of true glory came the next year in a preseason
scrimmage when I scored a touchdown on a pass from Anthony
Sanders, a prized freshman recruit. A day later The Arizona
Daily Star sports section described the practice as "capped by a
42-yard touchdown pass from Sanders to walk-on receiver Kelvin
Bias." The article continued: "Sanders rolled to his left and
threw down the sideline to Bias, who broke a couple of tackles
and ran the final 15 yards into the end zone." Of course, we
were going against the third-team defense.
I endured three sessions of Camp Cochise, the Wildcats' annual
preseason hell week near Douglas, Ariz., two miles from the
Mexican border. I lifted weights under the guidance of Meg
Ritchie--the former Olympic discus thrower who was the first
female Division I-A strength coach in the country--and ran
sprints at 6 a.m., before class. In the evenings I occasionally
sneaked food from the training table at the student union.
Other memories: One time a player quit Camp Cochise and sneaked
back to school in the back of a laundry truck. Every year during
practice the week we played USC, the Trojan fight song was
blared continuously on speakers brought into Arizona Stadium.
Then there were the trips to Honolulu for the 1990 Aloha Bowl
and El Paso for the 1992 John Hancock Bowl.
There are still a few pieces of grass stuck beneath the decal A
on the side of my helmet, the result of blind-side hits at
practice. As I look at the helmet, which sits on my desk, and I
remember my walk-on experience, I am smiling--no, laughing.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY DAVID ROLFE [Drawing of football player being stepped on by other players]