TEMPE, Ariz. -- As is often the case, Dan Vear has taken a more difficult path in order to chase his dream.
"I wanted to come to the biggest school possible and play at the highest level possible."
Now he is.
At an Arizona State practice, it's hard to miss Vear. He checks in at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, and as he works on drills with his fellow tight ends, his long blonde locks flow out from under his helmet.
Like many walk-ons trying to live out their college football dreams, Vear's path to ASU was anything but easy.
Playing at a small high school in Michigan, he accepted an offer from Wagner College, an FCS program in New York, but soon wished he hadn't.
"I didn’t like it there," said Vear. "So my family decided that the best route for me would be to go to junior college, do two years there, and then come back up as a two for two transfer."
Looking to be closer to his family in California, Vear searched for options that could get him to the FBS level. He found his next stop at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., due in large part to the reputation of strength coach Robert dos Remedios in getting players ready for higher-level football.
During his two seasons there, Vear, playing wide receiver, caught 58 passes for 820 yards and nine touchdowns, and even served as the team's punter last season. But when the offers that came were not what he wanted, he decided to take a risk.
"I was hoping to get an offer from a big school like Arizona State," Vear said. "I waited and waited and nothing really came but a lot of D-II offers and some small Division I schools offered me. My family and I decided that we would take on a financial burden, and I was going to walk on."
Vear ultimately chose Arizona State for a few reasons. Academically, it provided a program for him to continue his studies towards a history major. On the field, the offense's use of tight ends was too good to pass up.
"The scheme really works with tight ends," Vear said. "We have two and three tight end packages. Coming as a walk on with two years left to play, I felt like it was a great opportunity to come in and make an immediate impact."
Another major factor was the sense of brotherhood Vear felt from the outset. That included an unexpected, but very helpful, assist from his new teammates.
"My parents ended up moving out (to Arizona) about a week ago," Vear said. "I helped them move in, as did some of the guys on the team. That was really cool. There couldn’t have been a more welcoming situation, especially from someone just coming from junior college, a walk-on no one really knew. Everyone has treated me with respect, and I already feel like it’s a family here."
During the first week of fall camp, Vear has intrigued coaches with his size and raw talent.
"He may be able to see some playing time," said tight ends coach Chip Long. "He has a ways to go, but there is no question that he has some ability."
"I’m a very competent route runner. I feel like I have very good hands," said Vear. "I’m able to get open. I bring a great work ethic. I’m going to try to improve every day to be better.
Like all newcomers to Pac-12 football, the biggest and most immediate adjustment comes with the catching up to how fast things move at this level.
"I have to adapt to the speed of the game," Vear said. "Coming from a junior college where one or two players on the team were D-I caliber. Now, it’s a whole 90-player roster of beasts and animals."
As if that was not difficult enough, Vear's learning curve is also significantly ramped up as he faces those beasts and animals at a new position.
"I was a wide receiver my freshman year (in college)," Vear said. "I really have no formal tight end training. Coach Long is really helping me out. I’m staying with him after practice a lot, working on the one-man sled and my blocking a lot."
While he learns the finer points of his new position, Vear could immediately help his new team on special teams, one of head coach Todd Graham's greatest areas of focus this season. During his junior college career, he blocked seven kicks.
"I love special teams, and they are really big on special teams," Vear said. "I felt like I could help out and pitch in any way I could. I feel like special teams is a third of the game that people sometimes miss out on."
While the road to his dream have been full of obstacles, Vear feels that they have prepared him for the challenges ahead at ASU.
"I’ve grown as a person, because of the hard experiences that I’ve been through," Vear said. "The hard times of not being able to eat a whole lot. I have three older brothers, and they are all going through school too, so I’d only have a limited amount of time and money to eat food and practice. I’ve run into a lot of great people who have influenced me and helped make me into the person I am today."
That person is now hoping to find a home and finally compete at the highest level, in any way he can.
"I may not be the No. 1 or two tight end this season, but I feel like there is plenty that I can contribute. A national championship is all I really want."