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August 21, 2012It is redundant to talk about an "inspiring walk-on story." Almost every such story is inspiring, a tale of a young man or woman with a dream to play for a particular team or on a particular level of college athletics, one is willing to compete against those who were hand-picked for a spot on the club and compensated, in terms of tuition and books, room and board, for their efforts.
It is the epitome of the American dream. It is the sort of stuff Hollywood makes into movies - "Rudy," anyone? Walk-ons are a part of the lore at any college program old enough to have lore. Alabama has dozens in its history, from David Smith, who made it all the way to the starting quarterback position, to Rashad Johnson, who made it all the way to a team captaincy and the NFL and many more, every single one with an inspirational story.
But, without diminishing a single one of those stories, Carson Tinker's journey is something different. Tinker has certainly earned the scholarship that he was awarded Tuesday with his efforts on the field. He has been an integral special teams performer on two BCS championship teams, a solid snapper of the sort that every team seeks. But that is only a small part of his story, as everyone in Tuscaloosa knows. There is the story of his tragedy in the April 2011 tornado, his own injuries and the death of his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison.
He became a symbol of the horrors of that evening, but he didn't stop there. Through his personality, his love of life, his willingness to talk directly about his experiences and the faith that sustains him, Tinker became a symbol of something far greater - not of tragedy, but of triumph, of the strength and perseverance of the human spirit.
Tinker has become something of a celebrity, but without losing his humility. His genuine surprise as he spoke about receiving the scholarship reflected that, as did the excitement of his teammates, the people who know him best.
Walk-on scholarships are rare at any school, especially at those like Alabama (and others) who stay at or near the NCAA total limit of 85 players on scholarship. It is a different argument for a different day as to whether UA could have more such opportunities. In this case, a scholarship was there and it is hard to imagine a more appropriate use of it than the one which Nick Saban chose.
Tinker's story grew from the common characteristics of most successful walk-ons - dogged determination, steady optimism and abundant patience. Tinker received the reward for that on Tuesday - but a reward that was not a gift, but hard-earned.