Surprising walk-ons with impromptu scholarship offers is nothing new in the world of college sports, but Western Michigan football coach P.J. Fleck just took it to a new level.
To wrap up a practice session Monday, Fleck channeled Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson in a "Gridiron Gang"-esque sequence, coming out of the locker room in full pads with the Rocky theme song playing, completely unannounced to his players.
After giving a passionate speech justifying his move, in which he told his players he was a young man at 35 – referencing Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy's epic "I'm a man! I'm 40!" rant in 2007 after a local newspaper article criticized quarterback Bobby Reid – he issued a challenge to his athletes.
"If you stop me, you go home the minute practice ends," says Fleck, who played wide receiver at Northern Illinois and then one game with the 49ers. "But I get to pick the guy I go against ... and I want somebody my size. Give me Kasey Carson."
The redshirt junior linebacker Carson and Fleck went at it in a version of the classic Oklahoma drill – and unlike Willie Weathers in "Gridiron Gang," Fleck only needed one attempt to best his coach. But the festivities were far from over at that point.
"This guy, look at how big he is," Fleck says about Carson to the entire team after the contest. "He ain't that big, but he exemplifies everything Western Michigan is all about, and more importantly being a neck-tie kind of guy."
Fleck then directed the team's attention to the Jumbotron screen at the stadium, where WMU alum Alec Gores and Rocky protagonist Sylvester Stallone himself finished the surprise.
"The fact that you're a walk-on and you accomplished this is extraordinary," Stallone says. "It's being a fighter which is taking blows, getting up, taking it to your opponent when sometimes you're so tired you don't think you can do it but you just find that reserve in there that makes you one step better than you ever thought you could be. And I forgot one thing really important; you have gotten a full-ride scholarship."
Cue the mayhem from Carson and his teammates. Granting scholarships to players will always be an emotional experience no matter what, but this may have just set the new standard for years to come.
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