Everyone loves videos of walk-ons receiving scholarships. They’re college football’s version of military family surprise reunions or lost pets finding their owners. They bring out the feels in all of us.
The standard for creativity in these videos continues to grow, and no one does them better than Western Michigan and coach P.J. Fleck. Remember last summer, when Western Michigan walk-on Trevor Sweeney fielded an onside kick during practice, only to find scholarship papers wrapped around the football? Pretty cool.
Well, Fleck and WMU took things one step further Saturday for linebacker Kasey Carson.
It started with Fleck, appearing in full pads and uniform and running through smoke onto the field at Waldo Stadium, underneath a banner with WMU's motto "Row the Boat." Fleck then challenged Carson in the Oklahoma drill (where two players run at -- and try to stop -- each other). If Carson stopped Fleck, players would get the night off with no meetings.
The 5-foot-11, 206-pound Carson stoned Fleck, but things didn't end there. Fleck directed players to watch the video board, where Sylvester Stallone, yes, Rocky himself, appeared alongside Alec Gores, a successful Beverly Hills businessman who played football for WMU in 1973.
"I didn't play for any Broncos, but I got hit by a few," Stallone joked on the video. He then praised Carson for being a fighter on the field before telling him, "You have gotten a full-ride scholarship!"
Carson's teammates lifted him on their shoulders as the "Rocky" theme played, but that wasn't the best part. Gores and Stallone end the video by rowing the boat, Gores with a drink in hand.
The idea was spawned at Gores' Super Bowl party in Beverly Hills, which Fleck attended along with his wife. They met Stallone, who offered to help WMU in the future. Fleck, who collects training camp ideas throughout the year, kept note of Stallone's pledge and started working with Gores to put things in motion.
"One thing about me: I’m going to take people up on their offer to help our program," Fleck told ESPN.com on Monday. "He was incredibly generous. It was elite, to have Rocky rowing the boat. It was special for Kasey and his family.
"It’s about rewarding our players in the most unique way possible."
Around the same time as the Super Bowl, Fleck identified Carson as a walk-on worthy of a scholarship. Carson, a native of nearby Battle Creek, Michigan, turned down offers from Division II and NAIA schools to play at Western Michigan. He appeared in nine games last season, recording eight tackles for the Broncos. Despite his size -- "If you saw him, you're like, 'That's one of your linebackers?'" Fleck said -- Carson has positioned himself to compete for a starting job this summer.
"When you think of a fighter, no one exemplifies Rocky Balboa more than Kasey Carson," Fleck said. "He’s a complete underdog. He’s 5-10, maybe 210 pounds, but he’s one of the hardest workers, one of the hardest hitters, one of the toughest guys on our team.
"You always wait for scholarships to open, but he's earned it. He deserves it."
Carson is Sweeney's roommate and celebrated his friend's scholarship the previous camp. Although earning a scholarship was always in the back of his mind, he continued to focus on helping the team and finding a way onto the field. He sensed something was coming Saturday when Fleck called him out for the Oklahoma drill. He was simply glad to have earned the team a night off when Stallone appeared on the big screen.
"It was surreal," Carson said. "As soon as he said my name, I knew it was real. I kind of froze. I can’t describe how lucky I am and how lucky our university is to have someone like that support us. Growing up being an athlete, you’re watching 'Rocky,' all the Rambos. It’s awesome to see a guy like that show us some love."
As for Stallone's boat-rowing technique?
"Hilarious," Carson said. "I don’t know if he knew what 'Row the Boat' was, but he caught on."
Although most Western Michigan players weren't born when the Rocky series came out, Fleck often shows them clips.
"He's a staple in movie America," Fleck said. "He’s everything to what the fighter is all about. That’s what Casey’s about."
The video is incredible. You need to watch this, like right now.