"The thing that really intrigued me about ODU," Plisco said, "is that I was in position to be that guy. Ten, 15 years down the road, when ODU recruits, I could possibly have been in that position. I wanted to be part of that. It was something fresh, something new. I could be practice fodder, but I knew what I was capable of and had to work for it. I thought ODU was the best fit for me. I could be in the history books, where William and Mary already had their established guys."
When ODU resuscitated its program after 40 years, the first team that reported to camp in August 2008 had 82 players. Because Wilder wanted to build the program gradually and not use all of the available scholarships, 59 players were preferred walk-ons.
In the past four years, the number of scholarship players has increased, but the walk-on component is no less important. Nineteen players on the present roster were preferred walk-ons; eight of the 36 players in the junior and senior classes began their careers as walk-ons.
"I always tell them, the way you prove yourself," Wilder said, "is you have a good reputation on campus, you do what you're supposed to do academically, and if you earn a starting spot, you'll earn scholarship money."
Two freshmen PWO's saw playing time last season as the Monarchs went 10-3 and advanced to the second round of the FCS playoffs: Neal-Anthony Hale and James Faircloth.
"You might think that defies logic," Wilder said. "How are you having preferred walk-ons play when you have full scholarship kids you redshirted? It just goes to show you how inexact the recruiting process is. You can't necessarily measure a kid's skill level until you get them on campus and work with them. In the case of Hale and Faircloth, they got here and we said, wow, these guys are good players."
They also reinforce Wilder's tenet that the best available 11 play, and demonstrate that to current and future recruits — scholarship guys and walk-ons.
"The first thing I tell them when we start to recruit them as a preferred walk-on is, don't be mad at me," Wilder said, only partly in jest. "I'm the one who's trying to give you an opportunity right now, so don't come in here mad at me, or it's not going to work out.
"I say that because a lot of kids have a chip on their shoulder," he continued. "They feel like they were as good as their teammate who got a scholarship, or they were way better than that kid they played against who got a scholarship. Well, everybody didn't see it that way, so don't be mad at me, because I'm not the only one who didn't see it that way."
William and Mary aims to bring in a class of 25 players every year. The Tribe signed 13 scholarship players in its 2012 recruiting class, so it will have approximately a dozen walk-ons fill out the class.
Both programs have scouted most of their targeted walk-ons. ODU annually has a summer team camp that attracts dozens of high school teams. That camp exposes local players to ODU and its campus and facilities, while allowing the Monarchs' staff to begin to evaluate players. W&M holds camps for high school prospects, as well, mining many of its longtime connections both in and out of the area.
"We've known a lot of these kids since early in the scholarship process," Andrews said. Targeted walk-ons, he said, "are hearing from us. They're getting attention; maybe it's not quite the attention the scholarship kids are getting. They get more attention once the signing day comes and goes."
Walk-ons who succeed, who earn playing time and scholarship money often become the best ambassadors for their programs and schools. Callahan and Plisco, among others, have talked to other kids who were in their position about the challenges and rewards that come with walking on.
"It feels perfect," Plisco said. "When there's that situation that works out perfectly, that's what I have here. I'm on full scholarship. I love this area, I love my school. I was really lucky. I'm real happy that it worked out the way it did. I couldn't be any happier where I am."