LOS ANGELES -- Perhaps no four players epitomize the TCU Horned Frogs' improbable rise to national prominence and a Rose Bowl appearance against Wisconsin better than their four senior walk-ons.
No-names when they arrived on campus, receivers Bart Johnson and Curtis Clay, strong safety Tyler Luttrell and kickoff specialist Kevin Sharples all earned significant spots on the team the old-fashioned way.
"Coach P [Gary Patterson] has often talked about having the mindset of a walk-on, even to the scholarship guys; the mindset that you come in here, you haven’t really earned anything, whether you’re a scholarship guy, a recruited walk-on or an unrecruited walk-on," said Clay, a significant special teams contributor who also has 23 catches and three touchdowns over the past two seasons. "If you can help the team down the line, they’re going to see that and they’re going to use you, whether they’re paying for your school or not."
TCU wound of paying for three of the four. Clay, Johnson and Luttrell were eventually granted scholarships. All four enter the Rose Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers with degrees in hand.
Clay, from Lockhart, Texas, and Johnson, from Brownwood, Texas, are two of three Frogs, along with receiver Jimmy Young, to play in all 51 games over the past four seasons. Johnson ranks third on the team with 30 catches for 396 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. He had at least one catch in every game this season to extend his team-high streak to 34 consecutive games with a reception.
"It’s been unbelievable," Johnson said. "To come out of a small town where I played and come on as a walk-on where no one really gave me a shot and then end up earning a scholarship after my second year, and my junior and senior year to end up starting the Fiesta and Rose Bowl, it’s a dream come true."
Luttrell, who hails from Weatherford, Texas, has been a consistent contributor at strong safety. Sharples, from The Woodlands, has remained a walk-on and has handled kickoffs the last two seasons. He has 14 touchbacks on the year.
The four will forever share a bond as original walk-ons on the most prolific class in TCU history. The seniors have won a school-record 43 games and have a chance to make it one game harder for any other class to catch.
"To win that 44th in the Rose Bowl would be icing on the cake," Johnson said. "To be on a national stage like the Rose Bowl and to have the senior class like we do with the leadership and leaders we have, and to go out with a win and to prove to everybody in the nation that we really do belong, that would be really special."