SMU has a very talented receiving group in 2009 that is only getting better. Because of that, earning playing time this season will require a great deal of work.
For walk-on Ryan Walker, it may initially seem as though the freshman from Southlake chose the wrong school if he wanted to see playing time at receiver. But after a strong showing in both training camp and last Saturday's team scrimmage, Walker has proved that he's no ordinary walk-on and that he has the talent to hang with the rest of the Mustang's top receivers.
"He's a kid that comes from a real strong high school program," said wide receiver coach Jeff Reinebold. "He probably has a leg up on a lot of guys his age because of the fact that he's been in a program where they throw the ball a lot. He has good fundamentals and he has a great concept of the game coming from high school. Most kids his age don't come in with that level of understanding of the passing game. That's a credit to his high school coaches."
In his senior year with the Dragons, Walker totaled 46 catches, 610 yards and eight touchdowns. Since he had grown accustomed to the spread offense in his high school career, he knew right off the bat that SMU would be a perfect fit.
"I've loved it here so far," he said. "I'm a walk-on but everyone's treating me like I'm on scholarship. I'm just as much a part of the team as everyone else. All the receivers ahead of me like Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Loftin, they've all been showing me the ropes and it's been a great time."
Despite the similarities between the Southlake offense and the SMU offense, it didn't take Walker long to realize that college football is much different than high school ball, especially when it comes to practice.
"[Practice] is a lot more intense and there's a lot more attention to detail. We don't go through the motions and everything is full out. We emphasized that at Southlake and it's the same here but a lot more intense.
"The hardest adjustment for me has been the speed of the game. In this offense you have to read so many different coverages and it's a whole lot different than high school."
During his senior season at Southlake, Walker watched SMU football games and was impressed by the play of true freshman quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who he now has the pleasure of being on the same team with.
"He has a cannon and he can chunk the ball around a bit so I'm really excited to be able to play with him," Walker said. "I've been hanging out with him a lot and he's a cool guy."
When it came to catching passes from backup quarterback Kyle Padron, Walker felt right at home as he was reunited with the former Southlake gunslinger.
"We played together in high school so I knew Kyle was a great quarterback before I came here. It's probably hard for him to learn the offense but he's making strides and it'll be fun to see him compete with Bo."
In his short time with the Mustangs, Walker has already started to catch the eye of his position coach as well as head coach June Jones.
"The coaches told me I've been doing a great job and to keep doing what I'm doing. I'll be with the traveling squad. And right now they're happy with how I'm working so I hope to continue to impress them and see some time on the field soon."
In last Saturday's team scrimmage, Walker was given a good amount of reps along side true freshman Darius Johnson. Reinebold was pleased with Walker's performance and he has no doubts about whether or not he has the talent to play college ball.
"He showed he has the ability to play at this level," Reinebold said. "He's not your typical walk-on in terms of an athlete. He's got athletic ability. His dad was a Division I hockey player so he has the gene pool and the ability to play at this level.
"I don't know how much he'll get in the field this year because it's a tough situation at slot with the depth that we have. Injuries in this game can elevate a guy from a redshirt to a starter if we have problems. When he plays at this level, it's a question of how healthy we stay at that position and if he continues to improve and make plays."
Walker may be a walk-on but that hasn't stopped him from trying to make a name for himself at SMU. Before this year is over, he said he hopes to earn a scholarship with the Mustangs.
"Despite what I am I come out to the field every single day and I want to be the best on the field. Obviously if you're a walk-on you have a lot more to prove but my mindset is the same whether I'm a walk-on or a scholarship player."