Author and current President of the Trojan Football Alumni Club (TFAC), Tim Lavin has a message all walk-on athletes and their parents should hear.
My Elite Network: Why the University of Southern California?
Tim: I was 100% positive that I could play Division I college football and compete. There was no question in my mind. The fact that I didn't get a scholarship was a punch in the gut, but I was determined that I was going to walk-on at USC and prove everybody wrong, and myself right! I had a family friend who introduced me to one of the assistant coaches. After watching my high school film, I was invited to be a preferred walk-on at USC. A few other schools offered me walk-on opportunities, but I thought if I was going to walk-on, I was going to do it at a powerhouse program like USC. At least a great bonus of being close to family was I could go home on weekends and have my Mom do my laundry.
My Elite Network: Was there a player that helped you grow into a better player?
Tim: Oh yes. Junior Seau. I think he was the most influential without a doubt. He was and probably is still considered one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game. With me being a fullback and him being a linebacker - I went against him in practice every day. I had to figure out how I was going to get leverage to block him. I don't think I would have ended up earning a scholarship and playing as much as I did on game days if it wasn't for the on-the-job training I got as a freshman and sophomore going against Junior Seau!
My Elite Network: Did you ever get the chance to tell Junior that?
Tim: Yes, but in a kind of tragic, sad way. I reached out to interview him for my book, WALK-ON U. He invited me to come to his restaurant for lunch to talk. I was looking forward to interviewing him and just catching up. Before our meeting took place, my wife texted me the tragic news. I did have a chance to tell him on the phone, but I would have wanted to share more with him in person.
My Elite Network: Favorite USC memories?
Tim: I remember my freshman year at USC and coming out of the tunnel in the Coliseum for the very first time. I went from playing in front of 3,000 people in high school to almost 100,000 people. It was awesome. You come out onto the Coliseum turf, soaking it all in, just enjoying the moment, and letting your emotions take over. And then when its game time, you're on the field, focused on your mission. You are totally zeroed in on what you have to do and you forget about the crowd. My best moment has to be when I earned a scholarship. Being a walk-on I wasn't supposed to be there, and I was told I would never play, that I was living a pipe dream, and I was wasting my time going to USC. That motivated me all the more. Earning a scholarship and playing time on Saturday was monumental.
My Elite Network: Did you continue playing football after USC?
Tim: I felt that I could play at the next level. So, I wrote letters to every head coach and running back coach in the NFL and sent along a highlight tape of my game footage. I did get tryouts with the 49ers and the Raiders, but ultimately I did not make a roster spot. I wasn't ready to breakup with the game, but the game was ready to breakup with me. I struggled with that for many years thereafter. For someone who had been playing tackle football every summer and fall for 15 years and to be forced to walk away from something that you were not ready to walk away from was very tough.
My Elite Network:Why did you write, WALK-ON U?
Tim: I was always very frustrated with how the NCAA constructed the rules that governed walk-ons. Here I was practicing with my teammates, investing the same amount of time, energy, blood, sweat, and tears. We did everything together, but the scholarship players got things that walk-ons did not get; such as training table meals, medical insurance, and so much more. I took great offense to that and I wanted to try and somehow make a difference. So, I decided to write this book. I started researching and writing, not only my stories, but the stories of hundreds of other walk-ons throughout the country who came from other Division I schools and had their own tale to tell. The focus was on how walk-ons are treated today versus when I played. My book came out in 2013 and I got an incredible response – national print, radio and television interviews came flying in. Even the most avid sports reporters had no idea how walk-ons were really treated. In addition to the media, I received hundreds of e-mails from current walk-on players and parents of walk-ons from around the country asking for more information, telling me their experiences of drudgery, or just thanking me for shedding light on the plight so very few people are aware of.
My Elite Network: How did you become president of the Trojan Football Alumni Club?
Tim: It's funny because even with the difficult challenges and adversities I faced and endured as a walk-on, I realized I was part of one of the greatest traditions in college football. Built over 100 years, I was a member of the great heritage of USC football and no one can ever take that away from me, my teammates, or any TFAC member who donned the Cardinal & Gold uniform and bolted through the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel. I realized this game is bigger than any coach who may have made bad decisions, or any unjust NCAA rule that adversely affects walk-ons.
In the end, I was part of history and I am proud of my accomplishments as a Trojan. In 2005 I received an e-mail from a member of the Trojan Football Alumni Club advising me of an upcoming board meeting. I decided to go and I met almost 20 former players there, all of whom played in eras spanning six decades. I had never met these men before, but they took me under their wing because I was part of the brotherhood. I was touched to be so welcomed within the club I started going to board meetings on regular basis. I was reaching out to teammates that I hadn't talked to in 15 years. In 2009 I became president of the Club. In 2010 my wife and I had a baby girl and suddenly time was the enemy. I stepped away from the club to focus on family. But, in the last two years I started participating regularly and low and behold I was tapped once again to become president for the 2017-18 term. I want to give back and welcome the younger players to the brotherhood of the alumni club just like I was welcomed in. I want to help these young players with business connections as they venture into the working world in their life after football.
My Elite Network: Your promotional products company is called, “Mad Dog Promos.” Where does the name “Mad Dog” come from?
Tim: I got the name from my former coach, Bobby April, who was our special team's coach. We were playing the University of Washington in the L.A. Coliseum. I was on the kickoff team and I ran down the field, lowered my shoulder, and knocked a Husky player on his back. While watching film the next day, Coach April placed his red dot laser pointer on me and yelled out; “everyone, watch Lavin.” When I flat-backed my opponent, Coach April yelled out; “Way to go MAD DOG!” The team erupted in laughs and applause. The name stuck and everyone called me Mad Dog from that day forward. When I started my own company, I thought people would remember the name Mad Dog.
My Elite Network: What’s next for you?
Tim: Because of my book I have participated in several public speaking events. When I start talking the passion, energy, and animation starts flowing out of me. I’ve been pressed to speak more. And so now I’m studying to be a motivational speaker. Using my experiences and the stories from so many influential people, I want to focus on taking that “sports minded competitive attitude” and transforming it into the business world.
My Elite Network: What do you think you bring to people? What’s your purpose?
Tim: Wow, that’s a great question. I have thought about it in the past. Taking my six year-old daughter out of the equation, because, that would be my number one purpose in life... But, I believe my purpose is to educate and enlighten parents, and mentally prepare players on what to expect as a walk-on athlete, male or female, in all sports.
I hope to continue to be instrumental in changing NCAA rules and policies that are nonsensical, poorly written, and adversely affect walk-ons. In early 2014, during my continual media blitz promoting Walk-On U, I put tremendous pressure on NCAA officials and in April of that year the Training Table rule forcing walk-ons to pay a cover charge for the privilege of eating a nutritious meal with their scholarship teammates was changed. The “wall” came crashing down. This was one of the biggest victories for walk-ons in the history of college football. All I know is that if an athlete, male or female - in any sport - is good enough to make the team, they should be treated like a full member of the team, and not a part-time member. They deserve the same opportunity to get better; getting the same nutrients, medical treatment, insurance coverage, practice preparation time, team perks, etc. I completely understand scholarship athletes will get more reps out on the practice field to prove themselves worthy of their scholarship papers. But all the little things leading up to hitting the field should be fair, and they are not. I have hundreds of stories from players and coaches to prove it.
In the end, there are both pros and cons to being a walk-on. You can accomplish great things. However, you just might have to go to hell and back a few times over through your uncommon journey in order to achieve your goals.