We’re picking up our countdown of the top 11 players of the 2000′s from Notre Dame after the holiday break. We left off last week at #8 with Jimmy Clausen, but head over to the other side of the ball for the last lock down corner to pass through Notre Dame. In case you missed any of #’s 11-8, check out the sidebar of where we now have all of them linked.
Shane Walton career summary
Shane Walton came to Notre Dame on a soccer scholarship and had an excellent freshman season on the soccer field for the Irish. The San Diego native led the team in scoring and was a second team All-Big East and Big East All-Rookie selection in his lone season on the soccer team. Despite his success on the soccer field, Walton tried out and made the football team in 1999, his sophomore season, under then head coach Bob Davie. He spent his first season on the gridiron playing exclusively on special teams and in a reserve role in the secondary.
By Walton’s junior year, his second on the football team, he had earned a starting cornerback position in the Irish secondary. His starting career got off to a great start with an interception in just his second career start against the top ranked Cornhuskers of Nebraska and a 60 yard interception of Drew Brees that he returned for a tochdown in his third start. Walton would not pick off any more passes in 2000, but he stayed in the starting lineup and collected 40 tackles before breaking his arm against Rutgers.
As a senior, Walton continued to make big plays against Nebraska – even if the rest of the 2001 Fighting Irish didn’t. Walton blocked a punt to set up Notre Dame’s lone touchdown against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln. The former soccer star would pick up another two interceptions in 2002 along with his first career sack (against Navy) and forced fumble (against Pitt) while starting all 11 games.
Because he did not play football as a freshman, Walton had a year of eligibility remaining in 2002 and he used to to go from a solid corner, to one of the best Notre Dame has seen in years with a huge final season. Walton started off the season with a bang by intercepting three passes to tie a Notre Dame single game record in the season opener against Maryland. Two weeks later Walton was instrumental in Notre Dame’s win over Michigan with the game sealing interception and a key pass break up on a late two point conversion attempt that would have tied the game. A few weeks later, Walton helped break open the Stanford contest in the 3rd quarter with an 18 yard interception return for touchdown just 24 seconds after Rashon Powers-Neal gave Notre Dame its first lead of the game.
Big plays were common for Walton in 2002 and he was rewarded by being named Notre Dame’s 78th (at the time) consensus All American as well as being named a finalist for the Bronco Nagurski Award – the first and only Irish defender ever to be named a finalist.
Why Shane Walton is on the countdown
Shane Walton is the last lock down corner to wear a Notre Dame uniform. That alone should be any justification needed to include Walton on a list of the top Notre Dame players of the last decade or so. Notre Dame has a pair of solid, maybe special, corners heading into the 2011 season in Gary Gray and Robert Blanton but since Walton roomed the Irish secondary, Ntore Dame has been lacking a corner with his instincts and big play ability.
In the write up on Courtney Watson last week, I mentioned that the 2002 defense was the last great Notre Dame defense. The 2011 defense has the potential to be great and the 2010 defense certainly was great at the end of the season (but any defense that gets manhandled by Navy can’t be called great over an entire season), but the 2002 defense was down right dominant at times and was the reason Notre Dame won 10 games that season.
That 2002 defense was as good as it was in large part to Walton, the leadership he provided, and the swagger he brang to it. Lou Holtz had some great defenses in his time at Notre Dame and they all had a swagger to them. That element had simply been missing at Notre Dame prior to that 2002 season. Swagger was not in short supply in 2002, however, and Walton was a major reason for that.
Intangibles aside, Walton also put up great numbers. His 7 picks in 2002 is tied for the 6th most single season total in school history and he ranks in the top 10 of several other interception and return records outlined below. Throw in a consensus All American honor at cornerback and Walton’s inclusion on this list is a no brainer.
Notable performances, records & awards at Notre Dame
- Consensus All American in 2002
- Finalist for 2002 Bronco Nagurski Award – the first and only Notre Dame player ever nominated for the award
- Voted team MVP in 2002 at annual football banquet
- Tied for 9th all time in interceptions (11) with Todd Lyght
- Tied with 7 others (most recently Tom Zbikowski) for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a single season (2).
- Tied with 4 others (most recently Allen Rossum) for career interceptions returned for touchodowns (3)
- Tied with 13 others for most single game interceptions (3, vs. Maryland in 2002)
- Tied with 3 others (most recently Dave Duerson) for 6th most single season interceptions (7, in 2002)
- 3rd all time in pass breakups with 25 behind Clarence Ellis and Luther Bradley
- 7th all time in interception return yardage with 181 yards.
- Recorded first career interception against #1 ranked Nebraska in 2000
- Intercepted Drew Brees in 2000 for first career interception returned for a touchdown (60 yards)
- Recorded an interception and broke up a two point conversion attempt against Michigan to seal a Notre Dame win in 2002
- 5th on team in tackles in 2002 with 68
- Team captain in 2002
- 6th in the nation in interceptions in 2002 (7)
Post Notre Dame career
Walton made plenty of game changing plays throughout his career, but his game didn’t translate very well to the next level. Walton ran a 40 time in the 4.6 range at the NFL Combine and was only drafted in the 5th round, 170th overall by the St. Louis Rams despite his outstanding collegiate career. Walton’s rookie season was then cut short by a bulging disc injury that forced to him to the injured reserved list by the first week of October.
The Rams subsequently released Walton after the 2003 season. The Steelers claimed Walton off of waivers from the Rams but they soon released him as well. He was picked up by the Colts during training camp, but was released before final cuts and didn’t play in the NFL again.
According to Wikipedia, Walton is currently an administrator and coach at The Bishop’s School, his alma mater.
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