“A sudden, dreadful event upends a football player’s love life and career in Podkowski’s debut novel.

Mike “the Steelman” Stalowski has amassed impressive stats and popularity as a linebacker for the Chicago Storm. But in the mid-2000s, his performance on the field suffers due to a host of distractions, including his legal separation and contentious ongoing divorce. He meets Florida native and aspiring actress Kim Richardson, who sees the warmhearted guy hiding underneath a “bad-boy reputation.” The two quickly fall in love and dream of a future together—until a car accident changes everything. There’s a chance Mike will be permanently benched, partly because of a condition he’s been hiding for years. He’ll also likely have to answer for the accident, which proved fatal for at least one passenger, with Mike behind the wheel. Helping out at an orphanage in friendly company may give him a shot at redemption; and maybe, if he’s physically and mentally able, the Steelman can play football once again. Podkowski shrouds this melodramatic sports tale in gloom. It opens with the accident and flashes back to show Mike’s rise to football stardom, which readers know will end in tragedy. The protagonist is a hard guy to like, a hothead prone to fisticuffs (“He hit Billy so hard with his left shoulder that he flew back ten feet before slamming his head against the sidewalk”), has avoidable run-ins with cops, and calls women “chick” or “bitch.” The author, however, aptly depicts the complexities of wealth and celebrity; lending an old pal money inadvertently ties the pro athlete to drug dealers. Said friend is just one of a myriad of vibrant characters, a cast that also includes TV reporter Barbi Santiago and Walter Pavlik, a young Czech orphan who uses a wheelchair. The narrative breezes through years of flashbacks and backstory, delivering memorable scenes and tense moments.

A brisk but understated story of loss, forgiveness, and the hazards of fame.”

-Kirkus Reviews

“Just like the protagonist’s very fast sports car, The Walk-On will leave you, from the very first paragraph, just a little breathless as you navigate all the sharp turns that come fast and furious at the reader. Yet, at the end of day, Richard Podkowski’s story of a fading football hero from Chicago’s Southeast Side will mostly—and unexpectedly—touch your heart.”

Jean Becker, Author of The New York Times bestseller, The Man I Knew: The Amazing Story of George H.W. Bush’s Post-Presidency

“An interesting read where star linebacker Mike Stalowski confronts the inevitable challenges every NFL player faces as they transition to their post-football life. His experiences may seem exaggerated, but they are still very real.”

Gary Fencik, Chicago Bears, Super Bowl XX Champion

“As a former college football player, I was cheering for Stalowski. As a police chaplain for over a decade who has been called to numerous fatal accidents and delivered too many death notifications, I wanted Stalowski to be severely punished. As a Catholic Deacon for the past twelve years, I have preached forgiveness and redemption from the pulpit. Podkowski does an excellent job writing about the complexity of emotions and consequences of actions. I, along with many, love a great comeback story. The Walk-On is one you will love.”

-Deacon Greg Gitschier, Former police officer, retired Secret Service agent, current police chaplain, and author of the award-winning book, Sneakin’ Deacon: From Secret Service to Sacred Service

The Walk-On is a fascinating story of self-sabotage and redemption. A page-turner!!!!

Mary Pat Kelly, Bestselling author of Galway Bay, Of Irish Blood, and Irish Above All

“I am not a football fan. I’ve never lived the fast life in the big city. So I approached Richard Podkowski’s new book, The Walk-On with some trepidation, fearing it might simply be about the selfish glitz and grift of professional football and its hangers-on, both male and female. Imagine my joy when I discovered that there was another major character in this book, one personally dear to me: the city of Chicago itself, with all its rawness, rich ethnicity and beating heart. This book was written by a person who knows the city and its neighborhoods, its restaurants and bars, its patchwork of streets and human networks. And then, once you are hooked by these stories, you’ll find yourself increasingly drawn to its two lead characters—the football player known as the Steelman, and the young woman whose caring soul counterbalances her flashy lifestyle. Don’t be surprised when faith and its formation make an appearance; that’s part of the real Chicago, too. Just like football; there’s some great game day action in the book, even for a football amateur. You’ll be glad you picked this one up.”

Barbara Dembski, Retired Milwaukee newspaper journalist and Chicago native

“It is the rare book that draws you in from the first pages. Podkowski writes in such a way that slips you into the story quite effortlessly. From the beginning you know the tragedy and then work your way backward and forward to see how this will be resolved. I was torn between rooting for Stalowski and hoping that he gets the book thrown at him. In addition to the main characters, the city of Chicago is a character all her own.”

Jeanne Manning

“Richard Podkowski’s debut novel The Walk-On—is a story of redemption seen through the lens of Pro Football: newfound, then lost love; addiction; the toll that getting hit in practice, weekly games, and life can take on one’s body and, more importantly, one’s soul. We see Michael Stalowski descend into the inferno, climb up through purgatory and, in time, to salvation, self-forgiveness, and new purpose all within the backdrop of the Windy City. Read it—we all need saving sometime.”

Christine Anne Corrigan, Book Lover and Book Group Facilitator

The Walk-On is not only a heart-wrenching redemption love story intricately fused with on- and off-the-field football action, it is also a love story to Chicago . . . giving this novel an authentic feel with its detail and reverence.”

Lola Monroe

“Loved the story of Mike Stalowski, a disgraced pro football superstar at rock bottom, on a difficult journey to face his demons and mistakes, and try to move forward with his life. At first I was not Mike’s biggest fan. His swearing, drinking, and drug abuse were not pretty. But I imagine it’s not unusual for players trying to withstand the pressures and pain of pro football. As the story developed, I began to understand his past made him who he was, and ironically, it was his past that helped save him. One theme throughout the story is that of second chances. Mike was fortunate to have people in his life who believed that he should get a second chance. And wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone believed the same?

Pam Piechota

The Walk-On by Richard Podkowski engages readers from the first page to the very last. After NFL player Mike ‘the Steelman’ Stalowski suffers through a devastating car crash, the reader has the opportunity to join along on his journey to redemption. Each page is filled with love, suspense, drama and action. I did not want the story to end and can only hope for a sequel. The author gifts the reader with a front row seat into the protagonist’s soul. I felt every thought, emotion and conflict as I read The Walk-On. The story is told in such a way where just as I thought I was moving forward, I was thrown into reverse in order to get another glimpse into Mike’s sordid past. The sign of a good book is when the reader is left thinking about the story long after the last page was turned and I can say that is true for The Walk-On.”

-Karen Soenen

“Sometimes a story is told that reaches us all on some level. The Walk-On is just that story. Mike “the Steelman” Stalowski is a man that has achieved legendary status in his NFL professional life while at the same time his personal life is in a steady downward spiral, gaining momentum almost daily. At the NFC Championship game, the two collide.
As Podkowski tells his story, we follow the Steelman’s struggle to the top—his fame on the field—but as for a hero in a Greek play, the tragedy awaits. All comes in turn, all leads to the fall. But with failure there can be triumph. With losing everything, one can acquire insight and focus. With insight and focus, a path can be found for redemption and this is what The Walk-On is really about. The Walk-On is a story of love as much as it is about football. The superb telling of the story takes you from the Steelman’s first real emotional breakthrough with a woman to the Sunday gladiator events that earned him his name. I was hooked on this novel from the first to the last page. It’s an excellent story that will touch us all.”

William L. Albracht, Author of the award-winning memoir, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight For Vietnam’s Firebase Kate

“I loved it! The Walk-On is a harrowing story about heartbreak, redemption and second chances centered around a veteran football player who is struggling with personal and physical demons. Richard takes us on a journey through the nuances of the varied neighborhoods, landmarks and scenic lakefront of Chicago while speaking of the complexities of relationships. One feels Mike’s crushing pain of both personal and professional loss. Thankfully, through the unlikely pairing of a broken man and a broken child, you also experience hope for redemption that comes into play through multigenerational mentorship.”

-pam O’Hara

“From the first to last page, I was immersed in Mike “the Steelman” Stalowski’s story, alternating between loving or hating Mike depending on the scene. Despite his NFL fame and bad-boy attitude and antics, I empathized with the humble guy from a blue-collar background fighting painful emotional and physical demons. Podkowski clearly knows and loves the city of Chicago: the ethnic neighborhoods, the grit, the glitz, the lakefront, the diverse people who make it truly unique. Ultimately, The Walk-On is an incredible story of love and loss, with faith and mentorship fostering hope for the future.”

Bill Rancic, Entrepreneur, Chicago native, Author of New York Times Best Seller, You’re Hired
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