Recruiting can be such a hassle, what with all the phone calls, all the lobbying, the pleading your case, and then that last big push that locks up the deal. But for the aptly-named Chase Haviland, the chase finally paid off: He successfully recruited the Gophers.
And he's glad he did. Haviland, who coach Jerry Kill called one of his team's "most pleasant surprises" in the spring, is a regular contributor on a team that had to be talked into taking him. He's made eight tackles, broken up a couple of passes, even started a couple of games. And he's become the latest example of Kill and his staff's willingness to play anyone who can help.
"Walk-ons are important to your program, and we've had quite a few who have helped us win a lot of games," said Kill, who wound up putting at least 18 walk-ons on full scholarships at Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois. "Those guys, you know they really want to be here. They'll do whatever it takes."
Haviland was an honorable mention all-state linebacker in 2007 and 2008, but his size -- 5-9 and 185 pounds even now -- and background -- he's from tiny Thief River Falls, a hamlet in the woods less than an hour from the Canadian border -- didn't attract any big-school recruiters.
But he wasn't ready to quit football. His brother told him he didn't have to.
Reid Haviland was a similarly undersized running back who walked on to the Gophers a half-dozen years ago. He encouraged his younger brother to follow the same path -- enroll in school without a scholarship, get the coaches' attention with hard work, and earn playing time gradually.
"My expectations, I always want to keep them high, so you push yourself," Haviland said. "I started school down here, and my brother helped get me a tryout. He put me in touch with Josh [Sternquist, a Gopher recruiting assistant since 2008], and pretty soon, I got a call to come over."
Mark Hill and Will Peoples, the strength coaches under Tim Brewster, ran Haviland through a few drills, liked what they saw, and recommended Haviland to Brewster. By the time spring ball began, Haviland was on the team.
Well, sort of. Like most walk-ons, Haviland was something of an afterthought. He practiced every day, attended every meeting, and suited up on weekends, but for two seasons, he never stepped on the field. He mostly spent his time on the scout team defense, preparing the offense for each week's games, and on special teams, hoping his hustle might earn him playing time.
"It was a building-block thing. Scout team was fine -- I just wanted to take whatever reps I could get in practice."
When Kill was hired last December, the redshirt sophomore loved his new coach's philosophy: That he would play his best players, no matter their status.
"I realized I was going to get my reps. I could see that they show no favoritism to anybody," Haviland said. "Football's not a game where the timid succeed. They're looking for effort."
His effort paid off on opening day: Haviland was sent out on special teams for the opening kickoff against USC. "I'm from a town of 9,000, playing in a stadium [Los Angeles Coliseum] in front of 70,000 people," Haviland said of that kickoff.
"I wish I was able to make a little better block, but I was trying to block out the nerves."
They've gone away now. Haviland is a regular on special teams, and plays a few downs each week at safety, where his play-reading ability is important. He made a pancake block on a punt at Michigan, taking his man into the sidelines, that he's particularly proud of.
He's also shed his walk-on identity. Kill rewarded Haviland by directing an academic scholarship his way in the spring, a recognition of his achievements on the field and in the classroom, where he's a journalism major.
"He's done awfully well," defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. "We need four or five guys like that every year."