St. Mary’s grad reflects on experiences as walk-on for MSU football

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 3, 2022

 Royal Oak resident and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s graduate and teacher Sean Clouse recently reflected on what he went through as a walk-on football player at Michigan State University in the 1980s.

Royal Oak resident and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s graduate and teacher Sean Clouse recently reflected on what he went through as a walk-on football player at Michigan State University in the 1980s.

Photo provided by Sean Clouse


ORCHARD LAKE — After taking up the sport in fifth grade, football became a huge part of life for Orchard Lake St. Mary’s graduate and Royal Oak resident Sean Clouse.

However, after graduating from St. Mary’s in 1984, it seemed as though Clouse’s organized playing days were over.

As an offensive and defensive lineman who was approximately 5 feet, 7 inches and weighed less than 180 pounds, there were no offers to play at the collegiate level, which meant Clouse’s best option was to focus his attention on pursuing an academic degree at Michigan State University.

“I wasn’t expecting to play football,” he said. “I pretty much figured my playing days were done.”

But after a while, a longing for the sport that he had dedicated so much time, effort and energy to began to set in.

Clouse was used to playing football in the fall season, and after missing out on it his freshman year at Michigan State, perhaps more than ever, he realized how much the sport meant to him.

“I figured I was missing something,” Clouse said. “There was something in my life that wasn’t there. I had been playing since I was in fifth grade.”

Clouse made a decision to inquire about how he could try to earn a spot as a walk-on player at Michigan State.

Athletes who become part of a team without being recruited or awarded an athletic scholarship are considered walk-on players.

Clouse was told to show up after Christmas to go through conditioning.

“We’d gone through the winter conditioning, and that was a lot of running, a lot of weight-lifting, a lot of stuff, with no promise of ever getting on the field,” he said.

Clouse described the process as a “tough” one.

However, his perseverance paid off when he was informed that he would be part of Michigan State’s team in the fall of 1985, his sophomore year.

His position was outside linebacker.

“I was a scout team player; I got to dress for a couple home games but never got to travel,” Clouse said. “You’re allowed to dress like 100 kids for the home games. It wasn’t guaranteed for all walk-ons, but I dressed for the majority of them, I think, that sophomore year.”

Clouse was a walk-on player for Michigan State as a sophomore, junior and senior.

The only time he had the opportunity to travel with the team was for the 1988 Rose Bowl, which took place in Pasadena, California.

“It’s just a dream come true,” Clouse said. “Something you just never expect to be a part of.”

During his time as a walk-on player for Michigan State, Clouse had one opportunity to play in a game.

In his junior season, with Michigan State up big against Western Michigan University on Sept. 27, 1986, which happened to be his birthday, he was called on late in the fourth quarter.

During what he said was one minute and three seconds of play, Clouse was credited with a tackle-and-a-half and one pass break-up.

Clouse described the experience as one he will never forget.

“My friends were in the stands; they were cheering for me,” he said. “ Most of the stadium had cleared out, to be honest, but you’re still in there, and one of the first plays, I got to be part of a tackle. … It was so exciting to run out on the field and say, ‘I’m actually playing in a game in the Big Ten at Michigan State.’ … It was just unbelievable.”

One of the things that has helped keep the memories alive for Clouse decades after his experiences at Michigan State is a journal he created to document that time period in his life.

The decision to do that helped lead to a book that he decided to author years later titled “Walk-On, but Never Alone: The Untold Narrative of a Lowly College Football Walk-On.”

Clouse’s self-published book was released approximately two years ago.

The book can be found on and at the bookstore at St. Mary’s.

Clouse was asked if he ever thought about quitting during the process of trying to earn a spot as a walk-on player.

“Nearly every day, you think about that, especially during those winter conditioning days, but I love the game of football,” he said. “I was driven by the fact that I thought I could play, and I wanted to prove to myself that I was good enough to play at this level. I wasn’t very big — that was against me, but I had a lot of heart and I had a lot of determination that I was not going to give up.”

Chet Grzibowski was a walk-on for Michigan State during the same time period as Clouse.

He recalled that Clouse was “extremely dedicated” and “tough.”

“The only reason that he never really made it off of the scout teams or whatever is he just didn’t have the natural size that was needed on the field, but it didn’t change his heart,” Grzibowski said. “That guy was one of the tougher guys around. … He was undersized for the position he was trying to play, but yet never gave up. The guy had to go against All-Americans time after time that would try to take his head off in practice, and he went at it with a smile.”

Grzibowski paid Clouse a lofty compliment.

“There’s only a couple guys that I played with that I would pat on the back and say, ‘Looking back, 30 years later, this guy had the toughness that we should all aspire to,’ and Sean was one of them,” he said.

Clouse graduated from Michigan State in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Natural Resources, with an emphasis in fisheries and wildlife.

He went on to earn a teaching certificate from Wayne State University and a master’s degree from Madonna University.

Clouse became a teacher at St. Mary’s in 1992. He teaches physics and anatomy at the school.

Clouse has also been a position coach for the school’s football team, along with coaching hockey, wrestling and track at St. Mary’s.

He has helped lead the track program to two state championships.

Having an opportunity to teach and coach at the school he graduated from has been no small matter to Clouse.

“I’ve loved being there for all this time — and being a graduate, it just makes it a little more special,” he said. “I’ve been able to get my three boys to go through there, as well, and they have each graduated from there. And then I have a daughter who’s currently a student, part of that first group of girls that are going through there.”

Clouse shared the meaning behind the title of his book.

“‘Walk-on’ — that has, to me, a dual meaning: walk-on, as I’m walking on the team, but part of my whole walk-on situation was, there was a faith behind me, and I believe that there’s more to the sports and to everything — there’s a God,” he said. “So you’re never alone; God’s with you throughout it. God was with me throughout this whole experience.”