Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Notre Dame fans were hit with some shocking news last July just a few weeks before the start of fall camp for the 2008 season when the University released a statement stating that Darrin Walls would not be with the team in 2008. After returning to Notre Dame for the winter semester, Walls is back with the team and ready find his groove again this spring.
Heading into last season, big things were expected from Darrin Walls. In 2007, Walls passed incumbent starter Ambrose Wooden on the depth chart and started every game at corner for the Irish. By the end of the season, he was no longer looking like a first time starter and opposing offenses were not testing him as they normally would a young corner. Comparisons to Troy Vincent made by Notre Dame defensive coordinator Corwin Brown last spring only heightened expectations for Walls as the season approached.
Unfortunately, Walls never got the opportunity to play up to those expectations as he sat at home in Pittsburgh while the rest of his teammates began the season. Now that is back at Notre Dame and back on the practice field though, Walls is excited to get going. “It feels good. It’s great to be out there with my teammates, and I’m just ready for the season to start,” Walls said over the weekend.
Sitting at home last season was tough for Walls, but now that he’s back at Notre Dame, he’s happy to be out on the field with his teammates. “It just felt good to be out there – being next to Raeshon (McNeil), talking to Brandon Walker, that’s my guy. It felt really good, I missed it a lot,” said Walls this weekend.
Making the transition back to Notre Dame both on and off the field hasn’t been all that tough on the senior corner. “With school it wasn’t too hard. I took classes while I was home. I stayed on academic track,” he explained when talking about getting acclimated back in the class room after not being enrolled at the University last semester. Physically, it hasn’t been all that tough on Walls either. “I worked out and had a job and physically it wasn’t a big issue,” said Walls.
Getting back on the field has been a smooth transition for Walls. He was around for last spring when Jon Tenuta joined the staff so he is familiar with the schemes Tenuta brought with him to the Irish defense. “We’ve been playing the same techniques and same coverages,” Walls answered when asked if it’s been difficult to pick up the defense again. He would add, “It’s just getting back into the groove of how to play each technique and each coverage.”
Walls doesn’t have any doubts that he’ll be able to get back to where he needs to be now that he is back at Notre Dame. “Academically I know it’s there and athletically I know I can do it – I just have to prove myself again.” Aside from proving himself again, Walls will also have to figure out where he fits in with the team. “I guess you could say it was catch up, but more so it’s me getting back into the grove and trying to figure out where I fit on this team and trying to get back into the grove of getting into the starting mix.”
Getting back into the starting mix will be a challenge for Walls. While he was at home last year, Notre Dame’s young cornerbacks stepped up in his absence. Classmate Raeshon McNeil had been behind Walls on the depth chart at corner since the two arrived at Notre Dame together in 2006, but with Walls not on the team in 2008, McNeil stepped into a starting role and performed rather well. Robert Blanton also seized the opportunity for playing time and turned in an excellent season as a true freshman.
When asked about the competition for the nickel back on Friday, Charlie Weis said that Walls will start of the spring in that position. “We’re going into start it off with Darrin first coming back. Obviously, it’s only right with R.J. (Robert Blanton) and Raeshon (McNeil) to be out there first.” Weis was, however, quick to add that the competition will be open and should get going pretty early on in camp. “But I think that that rotation will get going in a hurry,” he said.
Whether or not Walls ends up regaining the starting role he appeared to have a stranglehold on entering last season, he feels the entire process has been a learning experience for him – an experience he now sees a positive one. “As a person I think I’ve grown a lot. I think that’s just going to make me a better football player. I’ve learned more about myself than I ever have before. This whole process has been a positive one,” he said.
Walls will definitely have a tough time wrestling a starting spot away from either McNeil or Blanton. Both showed plenty of promise last year when given starting opportunities – McNeil all season long and Blanton over the final four games of the season. Walls, however, showed plenty of promise of his own in 2007 and many felt that he was on the cusp of becoming an elite corner before news broke of him not being a part of the team in 2008.
The competition between the three corners should be fierce this spring and will wage on into the fall, but given Walls’s talent level it would be surprising if he is not lining up as a starter when Nevada comes to town in September. Regardless of where he ends up on the depth chart, it seems clear that Walls has exactly the right attitude that you’d want from someone in his position, and should have every Notre Dame fan rooting for him.