EUGENE, Ore. — Life as a Duck football player is glamorous for most. But for the walk-ons, it’s a lot of hard work without all of the benefits.
Running back Ayele Forde was one of those walk-ons until the day before spring camp. That’s when Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich had a little surprise.
“We were having a meeting and [Helfrich] was doing a little game thing,” said Forde. “And he was like ‘this is the guy that the scholarship players get their checks from. Dustin [Haines] and Ayele, you should get to know him, because you’re on scholarship.'”
“It was a neat deal with the team, and that’s one of those things that’s special,” said Helfrich. “That was a fun thing to be able to do.”
The moment was just a special for Forde’s teammates.
“It was a joy for everybody. It’s just good to see that their hard work paid off,” said quarterback Marcus Mariota.
A junior, Forde’s 63 career carries and 315 yards have come mostly at the end of blowouts. But he made his impact, and ultimately earned his scholarship, with his play on special teams. It started in practice, when Forde was unblockable on kickoff coverage while on the scout team.
“We watched the [practice] tape and thought ‘he’s really good at this’, so we put him on the kickoff team,” said Helfrich. “Then he started making plays, and ended up being our best kickoff coverage guy.”
Helfrich also cited Forde’s academic success, his off-field leadership, and work ethic as reasons for awarding the scholarship.
“I came here with a goal, a determination. And I was going to keep chasing it until I got it. And I got it, and you know, I’m happy,” said Forde.
Forde now gets the perks of being on scholarship. Of course, that includes a paid-in-full education. But in life, sometimes the little things are more enjoyable. One of the first things Forde did after being awarded the scholarship was go eat in the team’s dining room, which the NCAA only allows scholarship players to do.
“I walked in to get some food with my chest puffed out. I made a big meal. And I ate it,” says Forde.
Thanks to his hard work, there will now be plenty of big meals in Ayele Forde’s future