A Fund for Football Walk-Ons
Former Badgers provide a boost for non-scholarship players.
Wisconsin football is known for having a strong walk-on program that is integral to its success, and now this brotherhood of Badger alumni have united to support students who are following in their footsteps.
Scott Young ’95, who walked on as an outside linebacker for the Badgers from 1991 to 1995, called on his fellow former walk-ons to provide funds to help players who don’t benefit from athletic scholarships. Bobby Adamov ’99, Steve Baffico ’96, Chris Maragos ’10, Bradie Ewing ’12, Matt Davenport ’99, Joe Schobert ’16, and Mark Tauscher ’99, MS’03 were some of the first to jump on board, and the fund grew quickly, aided by the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association’s own David Gilreath ’21, a former Badger football standout who went on to play in the NFL.
Tauscher says the donors were motivated by the powerful impact that their UW–Madison experience had on both their on- and off-the-field success. “I think we all just took a ton of pride in the fact that we were able to make a difference on the football team and moving forward,” he says. “What was awesome was that so many guys were excited about doing something to give back to the university in a way that was really personal to them.”
More than 60 former walk-ons — now joined by former scholarship players — have pledged some $700,000 to support non-scholarship players, many of whom find remarkable success on the field. (See “Walk-Ons: Despite the Odds,” from the Fall 2015 On Wisconsin.)
Young, who is now senior vice president–wealth management for UBS Financial Services in Greenwood Village, Colorado, says that Wisconsin is the only NCAA football program in the country with a scholarship organized by former players for the benefit of current walk-ons. Gifts have come in from gridiron athletes who attended over the past 40-plus years.
The walk-ons fund was recently merged with another scholarship fund created in honor of the late Father Mike Burke, who served as the team’s chaplain for some 30 years. Burke “was so meaningful to all of us,” says Young. “He was the officiant for more than 100 players’ weddings [during his tenure]. We absolutely love Father Mike.” The merging of the two funds into one, now called The Walk-On Scholarship in Honor of Fr. Mike Burke, has also prompted gifts from many former scholarship players.
The donors hope to create a perpetually endowed scholarship to provide a full ride for one deserving walk-on player each year. “It’s going to change a kid’s life,” says Young. Coach Paul Chryst ’88 will announce the winner at a football practice, and Young hopes to have many donors present when a student “who will be so much like us” learns the good news. “The room is going to explode when that kid gets that scholarship,” he says. “This is paying it forward and giving back.”
Published in the Spring 2022 issue