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Reviewed by Anne Boling for Readers' Favorite
I must begin the review of "The Walk-On: Inside Northwestern'S Rise From Cellar Dweller to Big Ten Champ" by Matt Stewartby admitting that I do not know a lot about football. However, this book is about much more than football. My first step was to discover the meaning of the walk-on, which I found in the introduction by Gary Barnett. A walk-on is a football player who has not been recruited or offered a scholarship by the school. Few walk-ons last; it is a lot of hard work and it is time consuming. Matt Stewart was a walk-on that persevered. In high school Matt lacked self-confidence, especially in his ability as an athlete. After reading an article about a football player who “never lost faith in his abilities” Matt had a renewed sense of self-worth and threw everything into football. The difference in his attitude showed during high school football training and college. Matt gives much credit to Coach Gary Barnett for building the self-confidence of the team, the school, and the individuals.
Matt spares little in this book: homesickness, preconceived judgments, pushing himself even when other teammates advised him to slow down, the foul language of many of the players, sex, and booze. In this book Matt is brutally honest about life as a college football player. He shares the highs and lows of the games at Northwestern. Reading between the lines leads to the real story of "The Walk-On", a story of how football, Coach Barnett and the team build character. I have always heard that the team is only as good as the coach and this book to some degree demonstrates that. Though Matt Stewart did not write this book seeking praise, I think he deserves it. He could have given up but he didn’t. What he learned from Coach Barnett followed him the rest of his life. Stewart clearly demonstrates that sports can and does influence the character of its players. If long ago Stewart had not read the article about the football player who refused to lose faith in his own abilities, would Stewart have had what it takes to be the man he is today? Thankfully we will never know.