Though ASU has recently acquired the services of many top-flight prospects such as Corey Adams, Omar Bolden, Vontaze Burfict, Lawrence Guy and Gerell Robinson, tight end Trevor Kohl’s journey into the Sun Devils’ starting lineup has been entirely different than those included among his blue-chip brethren.
A graduate of Chandler’s Mesquite High School, a school that had previously never sent an alumnus to the FBS ranks, Kohl was a standout Rugby player in addition to his work on the gridiron, as he was drafted by the USA Under-20 National Rugby Team in 2006 while also twice earning first-team All-Region and honorable mention All-State recognition in football.
After high school, Kohl’s initial college venture was at nearby Mesa Community College for the 2008 season before he arrived on campus in Tempe for the spring semester in 2009 as a walk-on seemingly with little to no chance of earning playing time.
The decision for a college student-athlete to walk-on at any university can be a dicey move at best, as there is no guarantee of a future scholarship opportunity and the athletes and their families face the reality of addressing the financial liability of attending a four-year institution.
For Kohl and his family, a plan was established that set a specific timeline, however it offered no certain outcome and plausibly could have sent his football career to a challenging crossroad.
“I walked on and told my Dad, give me one year and I’ll get a scholarship,” recalled Kohl. ‘I knew to get the scholarship I’d have to (work into the starting lineup). It was something I obviously had to work very hard to make happen, but to be honest I expected that it would the whole time.”
At the point of his arrival, Kohl was positioned behind scholarship tight ends including Jovon Williams, Dan Knapp, Stanley Malamala and Steven Figueroa, not to mention two true freshman additions that would arrive that fall in Chris Coyle and Max Smith and a pair of additional walk-ons, Leo Montt and Ryan Skorupka, both of whom boasted more program experience than Kohl.
In the form that has become a recurring theme for Kohl, he overcame the stacked odds that spring and became a contributor in practices and scrimmages, registering a 17-yard reception in the annual spring game and gradually earning the attention and respect of his coaches and peers.
As spring turned to summer and fall camp arrived in 2009, Kohl remained an option at tight end, though he still seemed to be a long shot behind the four returning scholarship players expected to see action that year.
Though Kohl naturally experienced the ups and downs that accompany the uncertainty of being a walk-on, his dedication never strayed and his focus remained unaffected as he persevered to earn playing time and ultimately, a football scholarship at ASU.
“I stayed motivated mainly by personal pride,” reflects Kohl. “My little brother looks up to me and I want him to be able to see that I’m a Sun Devil and playing on the field. I have a lot of people to prove wrong; no one said I could do it. I only have a select few, a few within the family and a few friends.”
However, thanks to gritty determination and a need at the position, he made his ASU debut at Washington State on Oct. 10 when Malamala suffered a broken jaw that would end his season.
Through the remainder of the season, Knapp and Figueroa also would be in-and-out of the lineup due to injuries but Kohl remained consistent and available, seeing action in each of the final seven games after his debut against the Cougars, primarily pairing with Williams as the blocking expert of a two-tight end set. In total, Kohl caught four passes for 35 yards on the year and excelled in his blocking assignments, a world of difference from what was expected of an undersized, fifth-string walk-on.
Though Kohl carried a great deal of personal momentum into the preparation for the 2010 season, the unavoidable reality of balancing the demands of being a collegiate student-athlete but unlike the majority of his teammates, Kohl was paying his own way through his first year at ASU.
“Coming in as a walk-on, you don’t get treated the same,” admits Kohl. “That’s something I keep in mind when I talk to the walk-ons we have now; I just tell them to keep your head up and say, ‘you’ll get it, you’ll get it’. You learn to treat everyone equally. It’s definitely a challenge. There’s no secret behind it, you just have to work your butt off.”
With his self-mandated one-year scholarship mission near its expiration date, Kohl’s collegiate career approached a complicated crossroad until the news of a lifetime broke just prior to the start of the spring semester as Sun Devil head coach Dennis Erickson made the necessary arrangements to provide Kohl a full scholarship effective immediately.
“When I got the news from Coach Erickson, I called my dad right away, tearing up,” recalls Kohl. “It’s a dream come true. To be able to have a feeling like that that—a lot of people have that vision as a little kid but very few people get to live that.”
From that point momentum continued for Kohl as in spring drills he continued to exhibit his innate acumen for his blocking duties while also showing notable advancement in his footwork, athleticism and abilities in the passing game.
Undoubtedly one of the most focused, motivated and driven players on the team, Kohl concluded the spring session as the projected starting tight end for the Sun Devils. Though he has enjoyed somewhat of a meteoric rise from a nameless walk-on to the playing rotation and ultimately the starting lineup and a spot among ASU’s scholarship roster, he remains hungry and passionate about continuously improving and proving himself on and off the gridiron for the Devils.
Above all, Kohl intends to keep a walk-on’s type of mentality and never forsake the opportunity he has earned.
“I see a lot of people that are given the opportunity but don’t take advantage of it—not necessarily here at ASU but others that I have heard of and known,” admits Kohl. “I take advantage of the opportunity to go to school and everything that comes along with it. It makes you work that much harder because now that you’re on the team, you have the opportunity to be great in this sport. If you’re at the division one level, you have an opportunity to go to the next level. So you’re never satisfied.”
Now that he is a consistent, full-fledged contributor to the offense Kohl keeps a blue-collar chip on his shoulder and insists that just as he should not have been underestimated when he arrived on campus with the expectation to earn a scholarship, ASU’s offense should not be predicted to be as challenged as many prognosticators predict.
“People should think differently about our offense and our team as a whole because we have a whole new ‘swag’,” insists Kohl. “That’s exactly the word we have to use, we take a lot of pride in our ‘swag’. We get real physical down there. We’re trying to prove ourselves that we’re worthy. Honestly, I get motivated by this underdog stuff, people want to think we’re not gonna be good, that’s fine with me.