Demetrius Harrison, Kenny Scott, Richard Lee

Wide receiver Demetrius Harrison, free safety Kenny Scott and defensive end Richard Lee (left to right) came to Towson University without a scholarship and went on to earn one on the field. Since 2003, the Tigers have had four walk-ons who became co-captains. (Sun photo Lloyd Fox / October 30, 2007)

Walk-ons are a rich part of college football lore. For decades, overlooked athletes have paid their way into school in search of opportunity, beaten the odds and made the team.

Perhaps nowhere is that time-honored tradition better observed than at Towson University, where coach Gordy Combs has added a twist.

Since the Tigers started handing out NCAA Division I-AA athletic scholarships in 2003, they have had four walk-ons who played not only well enough to earn a scholarship, but also well enough to become co-captains.

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This season, they start three former walk-ons:

• Wide receiver Demetrius Harrison, who walked on at Towson in 2004 after giving up a full scholarship from Virginia Military Institute after one season.

• Free safety Kenny Scott, who rejected financial aid at a Division II school in West Virginia for the chance to play at the next level in 2003.

• Defensive end Richard Lee, who developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma as a senior at Old Mill in 2005 and joined the Tigers after three months of chemotherapy.

Combs decided there was enough to this phenomenon that he asked the sports information department this year to include a page about walk-ons in the team's media guide, which it did. Altogether, the Tigers have some 30 walk-ons on their roster this season.

"I think it's something we have to utilize all the time in terms of awarding scholarships," Combs said. "We can say [to a recruit] we've done this before, and rewarded guys who came into the program who hadn't gotten a dime."

While successful walk-ons at the Division I-A level have dwindled over the years - Nebraska, for example, used to be a haven for them - the former Division I-AA, with a limit of 63 scholarships, has attracted more.

"A guy may want to go to Division I but doesn't feel he can make it," Combs said. "So he goes to I-AA because he says, 'I want to play eventually.'"

In varying degrees, that's what Harrison, Scott and Lee said when they went to Towson. Here are their stories:

Demetrius Harrison
Going into his senior year at Old Mill in 2002, Harrison was to be the featured receiver. Then he broke his hand in the first quarter of the first game and everything changed.

He played defensive back most of the year - well enough that several I-AA schools were interested in his defense. But he wanted to play receiver and he wanted to go to a big-time campus like Maryland.

"It's a dream you have as a young kid to think about playing big-time football," he said. "At the time, Maryland was definitely a program on the rise. You aim high."

The dream went unfulfilled. Harrison accepted a late offer from VMI, but military life didn't suit him, even though his father, Willie Harrison, had been a lieutenant colonel in the Army.

His high school coach, Mike Marcus, helped steer him to Towson, bypassing a chance to walk on at Maryland - as a defensive back.

"It's definitely a humbling experience," Harrison said. "I had to start from the bottom. That wears on you and you start questioning whether you really want to play football. At times, I felt like I wanted to quit."