Sept. 15, 2012
By Jeff Geiser
Student-athletes who walk-on a football team more often than not sit on the opposite end of the celebrity spectrum compared to basketball walk-ons. In basketball, the crowd cheers as a guy like Alex Eppensteiner checks into the game, hoping to see watch him swish a three-pointer before the clock expires. In football, however, most fans typically do not notice the men who've poured their hearts out on the practice field all week just for a chance to play the final 2 minutes of a lopsided victory.
It truly takes someone with a unique and determined mindset to succeed as a walk-on. This is especially true on a football team with 100-plus names on the roster, where no one is guaranteed their `Rudy' moment.
University of Cincinnati senior running back Adam Fearing, however, is one of those rare walk-on success stories; a man who went from unlikely tryout candidate to team leader over the course of his collegiate career.
"Adam Fearing is one of those individuals who have a definite role in our program," says UC Head Coach Butch Jones. "We always talk about I.R.U. - indisputable role understanding - and doing your job. He's always understood that and he's done his job to the best of his abilities. I can say this, when Adam Fearing walks away from here with a degree from the University of Cincinnati, I can say that he gave it his all and he made a mark for many years to come."
What is incredible about Fearing, a redshirt senior from Carroll High School in Dayton, Ohio, is his improbable journey that led him to dawning the red and black. Fearing was not recruited by a Division I or II school coming out of high school. His only collegiate football opportunity was at Thomas More College, a Division III school in Northern Kentucky. After about a week of training camp during his freshman year, he decided TMC was not the school for him and that he wanted to attend school at UC where he could be closer to his friends and family.
"(The Thomas More football coaches) asked where I was going and I told them UC," recalls Fearing. "One coach, who will remain nameless, said, `Oh, you're going to go to UC?' At the time I was just thinking just for school. I was like, `Yeah, I'm going to go to UC; I have a lot of friends there and it's a big school.' He was like, `Well, you're never going to be able to play football there.' Right after that I decided I was going to try to play football. I got it in my head that I'm definitely going to try to play football now."
After watching the Bearcats go 12-0 and earn a bid to the Sugar Bowl from the Nippert Stadium student section his freshman year in 2009, Fearing persistently visited the UC football offices with his eyes on getting invited to a tryout.
"I found out they were only inviting a handful of people. I basically went up to the football office twice a week for about three months badgering the coaches and telling them, `I'm not anywhere, and you need to invite me to the tryouts.' They'd say, `Okay Adam, okay Adam. We'll call you when we're making the invites.' I was blessed enough to get a call and, out of the 10, I was one of the guys that got picked up and I've just kind of hung around. It's been crazy."
After making the team as receiver prior to the 2010 season, what initially took Fearing by surprise was how united the football team was and how easily they accepted him with opened arms.
"That's how we are here," Fearing proclaims. "I was a little surprised about that when I first got on the team; everyone is so tight knit. It's such a family and everyone is so supportive. I thought when I first got on the team, `I'll probably get cut. I don't think I'll last that long.' But these guys were taking me under their wings. Armon Binns was telling me to clean my stance up and I was surprised because he didn't even know if I was going to be there tomorrow.
"Zach Collaros was another one. He gave me his number my first spring here. I was a receiver, didn't know anybody, and he gave me his number and said, `Text me and I'll let you know whenever we get together to throw.' He didn't have to do that; for all he knew I was never going to go to camp. I'm just real fortunate to fall into a team like this and be with a group of guys that help bring along younger guys."
Fearing, who was moved to running back his second season with the Bearcats, was supported by veteran walk-ons such as John Goebel, Steve Hancock and Obediah Cheatam to help get him acclimated to the life of what essentially is a practice player.
"I met John Goebel before I got on the team. He was just so instrumental with his support. We had class together and I remember telling him I wanted to get on the team. He was like, `You can do it! You can do it!' And for a guy who was so big-time, to have played in games and led the team in all-purpose yards for a year, to be saying that to me; that kind of support was huge. When I became a running back it didn't go away. He was always in my ear, helping with my plays. He told me when he left here, `You're good enough to play. Don't let anybody tell you anything different. Keep your head up.' So I did."
Fearing has since played in four career games in the past three seasons. He's produced 52 yards on nine rushing attempts, including a 14-yard touchdown against Austin Peay on Sept. 3, 2011, and has returned two kickoffs for a total of 25 yards.
Heading into his senior season in 2012, Fearing is expected to be in the mix on special teams and, with the graduation of running back Isiah Pead, will be an option out of the backfield for Coach Jones. More importantly than his on-field productivity, however, is the senior leadership he provides the team, especially toward the younger players.
"It's a long season and a long grind. Eventually they're going to need me and it would be irresponsible of me to get caught up in selfish things like playing time," Fearing states. "I need to be ready when my number is called. I need to stay in the game mentally, even if I'm not always getting plays.
"When they need me, the time will come and I'll be ready. That's how I can help my team. That's my mindset and I try to keep the rest of the running back group in that mindset for the younger backs. Tell them, `You may not think of it as your year because you're a freshman, but it's my year and George Winn's year. We're all going to need each other at one point, so make sure you're ready when you're number is called."
Fearing's leadership runs deeper than on the grid iron or in the weight room. It translates into the community as well. According to UC Life Skills Coordinator Cassaundra Thorpe, Fearing is near the top of the leader board in community service hours accumulated, not just in the football program, but for the entire athletics department.
"Making the team was such a coin flip. I personally didn't feel I did too well at the tryout," says Fearing. "So I prayed and made a promise that if this works out, I'm going to take full advantage of the status of student-athlete. There is a stigma between students and student-athletes. I wanted to use it for a positive thing. All of the attention that we get, most of the time we don't deserve it; I wanted to use it for a positive thing. So I said, `Any chance I get, I'm going to try to give back. I'm going to try to stay into my faith.' That's kind of where it stemmed from; it was something I felt was an obligation. But I quickly realized that it was something I completely enjoy."
Just three courses from graduating with a marketing degree in December; Fearing has been accepted into Xavier University's master's degree in sport administration program. His devotion to UC will continue as he plans to serve as a graduate assistant at UC during grad school, with aspirations of one day becoming an athletic director at a Division I program.
"I love this school and with everything that's fell into place here for me; I always feel like I need to give back," Fearing says. "I will always feel indebted to this school and athletic program."
Coach Jones summarizes his reciprocity and appreciativeness of Fearing and his contributions to the UC family.
"When you look at Adam Fearing, I think the first thing that comes to mind is consistency," Jones says. "He's consistent in everything that he does; from off the field with community service, classroom academics, to on the field. He's coachable. He's passionate about wearing the red and black. He's everything that we embody; not just as a walk-on football player who's earned his spot on the team, but everything we expect from a football player. I couldn't be more prouder to say that Adam Fearing is a part of our football program. He's helping us win and will help us win, and I'm proud to coach him."