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Pepperdine Walk-On Gets Mobbed By Teammates After Surprise Scholarship

CBS - Jake Johnson has worked as hard as anyone on the Pepperdine roster since joining it a year-and-a-half ago as a walk-on. And for that, he’s earned a reward.

Coach Marty Wilson surprised Johnson, a senior, with a scholarship for the spring semester at practice this week. Check out the awesome moment in a video shot by the Pepperdine staff.

“It just meant the world to me,” an elated Johnson said to CBS Sports about the moment.

Keep thinking these will get old after seeing so many of them. Nope. And this one’s even better when you actually get a backstory with it:

Johnson’s a pretty interesting story overall… He didn’t pick up basketball until high school, and didn’t play on any travelling basketball teams until a former player at the University of Nevada noticed him late in his career. He began to get dedicated to the game then, and was looked at by some low-major Division I schools like Sacramento State and Northern Arizona. But some things fell through and he ended up going the junior college route for two years at Casper College in Wyoming.

The second he signed at Casper he’d already begun to get more looks from Division I programs…Pepperdine ended up not being able to offer him after some things fell through, but that didn’t matter to Johnson.

“I kind of gambled everything and decided I really wanted to be at Pepperdine,” Johnson said. “So I told the other guys no.”

Pepperdine did offer him a preferred walk-on opportunity though. He and his parents discussed the financial burden of the going the walk-on route — Pepperdine is regularly listed among the most expensive schools in California — but Johnson ultimately decided that Pepperdine was where his heart lied and he would see what would happen with the scholarship once he got there.

“I came in the fall for school and immediately fell in love with the school,” Johnson said. “I knew my role was just to work as hard as possible and make the little plays like diving on the floor. The stuff that doesn’t show up in the stat sheet but that your teammates appreciate.”

He worked as hard as he could for a year and a half, both in the weight room and on the floor, to do everything he could to help his team. But going into his last semester, it didn’t necessarily seem like anything would work out. After all, teams tend not to give away precious scholarships when you only have 13 of them to allot. However, that’s where Pepperdine’s scholarship numbers came into play.

The team had only filled 12 of their 13 scholarships for this season. They wanted to keep one available just in case something came up as far as a midseason transfer. Once the team decided not to take any transfers, the option on what to do with that scholarship became clear. They rewarded Johnson for all of the hard work that he has put in over the last year-plus.

“In high school, I made this poster and put down all of my goals,” Johnson said. “It was just simple things like gaining weight to getting a certain GPA to a list of colleges I wanted to attend or get a scholarship to play basketball for. Just all of these goals up there.

“It means so much to finally be able to check off Division-I scholarship. Not just play at a Division-I level, but actually get that scholarship. It’s obviously a huge financial burden lifted, but more than anything it just means so much to set that goal and accomplish it. I felt like I did everything I possibly could to accomplish it, and I was content with myself knowing that I left absolutely everything that I could out there to try get it. To finally see it happen just, again, it meant the world to me.”

Has the accomplishment set in yet that he’s now a Division I scholarship athlete?

“Not yet,” Johnson said. “People are congratulating me from back home and all around campus and stuff. It’s just…it’s been kind of sinking in. But it’s just…I’m not sure it’ll ever really sink in. I never felt like an outcast with any of the guys or any of my teammates. I was always treated like any other player. So I don’t think that’ll change. But it’s still surreal knowing that it’s accomplished.”

Dude is like a cardboard cutout of exactly what you want a college athlete to be. It’s a little much to be honest…kind of want the guy to get like a public urination or public intox ticket or something, just to make sure he’s having fun in college and not just working his ass off in school and diving for loose balls all the time.