Walters to work with Matt Jones

FAYETTEVILLE -- Springdale native Steve Walters, the Jacksonville Jaguars' receivers coach since February and a former Razorback player himself, should have a good appreciation for his newest pupil, former Arkansas standout Matt Jones.

Like Jones, Walters is a former quarterback and all-around natural athlete who played two sports in college.

Walters, now 56, once hit a 20-foot buzzer shot to give Springdale High School a one-point basketball win over Fayetteville. He played for former SHS football coach Rex Yerby, then quarterbacked Jarrell Williams' first Red Bulldogs team as a senior in 1965.

"We lost to Fayetteville, but we were pretty good by the end of the year," Walters recalled. "That was all to coach Williams' credit."

Walters went to Oral Roberts on a basketball scholarship, but soon got the itch to return to football and joined the Razorbacks as a walk-on.

He lettered for Arkansas' vintage 9-2 teams of 1969 and 1970, playing mostly on special teams in '69 and in the secondary in '70.

"I covered a couple of kickoffs in the Game of the Century (a 15-14 UA loss to Texas in 1969)," Walters said. "I still remember coach (Frank) Broyles and President (Richard) Nixon talking to us after the game."

Walters could have graduated after the 1969-70 school year, but Broyles talked him into quarterbacking Arkansas' scout team in the spring of 1970 and then realized the Hogs needed help in the secondary.

"So I dual-enrolled the next fall and took some graduate courses," Walters said. "After Stanford beat us 34-28 in the first game, I started at safety the next week (in a 23-7 win over Oklahoma State). I started several games that year. It worked out well."

Jim Plunkett, Stanford's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, shredded the Hogs to the tune of a 27-0 lead in that1970 opener in Little Rock before quarterback Joe Ferguson came off the bench to spark a rally in his UA debut and senior Bill Montgomery returned to nearly complete the comeback.

With Walters helping solidify the secondary, Arkansas won nine games in a row after that, only to lose to Texas in the season finale, 42-7.

"I still come back to Arkansas when I can," said Walters, whose mother, Jean, lives in Fayetteville. "I came to the spring (Razorbacks) reunion last year and played in the golf tournament."

Steve's late father, Bob Walters, moved the family from Jonesboro to Springdale in 1950, not long after Steve was born, and coached at SHS under Earl Voss before going to work for State Farm Insurance.

Steve inherited the coaching bug. When he heard on an intercom in 1971 that a Prairie Grove High School football coach had suffered a heart attack, Walters went to Prairie Grove to apply for a job.

"That was my start," Walters said. "I coached track and jayvee basketball at Prairie Grove that year."

Then he followed former UA defensive coordinator Charlie Coffey to Virginia Tech as a grad assistant in 1971-72; coached Freddie Solomon at Tampa University in 1973; assisted for two years at Northeast Louisiana; coached at Morehead (Ky.) State when Phil Simms played quarterback there; assisted under John Cooper at Tulsa and Richard Williamson at Memphis State for two years each; coached at SMU under Ron Meyer and then followed Meyer to the New England Patriots as secondary coach in 1983-84.

Except for a year at Alabama in 1985, Walters has been an assistant in the NFL ever since. Though he never played wide receiver, he has coached receivers for the New Orleans Saints (1986-96), the Patriots (1997-98), the Tennessee Titans (1999-2004) and now the Jaguars.

"The Titans came close to winning the (2000) Super Bowl," Walters said. "You always see that highlight of our receiver, Kevin Dyson, getting tackled about a foot from the goal line."

Walters joined the Jaguars last February, watched Jones work out at the combine in Indianapolis and soon traveled with three other Jacksonville coaches to watch Jones in an individual workout.

"Four of us watched Matt and Steven Harris," Walters said. "You hate to ask for an individual workout, but we needed to see Matt run routes. It was all very good. Our tight ends coach was there, too, but we're thinking of Matt as a wide receiver."

Jones had already shown his speed and athleticism at Indianapolis.

"We'd seen that," Walters said. "We knew his size and speed. He had outstanding hands -- just a great natural catcher."

On NFL draft day, Walters said the Jaguars knew if they didn't take Jones on the 21st pick they wouldn't get another chance.

"We didn't think he'd be there in the next round," Walters said. "We knew the (Philadelphia) Eagles wanted him. We heard they might even trade up to get him."

ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen, who visited the Jags' minicamp last weekend, has said for months that Jones can succeed in the NFL, but that it would take an increased level of commitment on his part.

Walters added on Monday, "There's an extra level of pressure on a first-round draft pick -- whether he wants it or not -- the way everything is today. Matt has a long way to go to be a polished receiver, but he has enough talent to do fine. And he's not against working at it."

Jones, who tweaked a hamstring and sat out three of the five sessions at minicamp, impressed nonetheless.

"He was doing fine," Walters said. "The first practice, he did well. What happens a lot with rookies in their first minicamp is they've been training but not as extensively as the veterans. Matt got a pull, but it's not serious. We're hoping he'll be fine when he comes back on May 15.

"From that point, he'll be with us just about all the way through until the season is over. Rookies need that extra time to learn the offense."

On May 14, Walters' daughter, Kasey, will receive her UA degree.

Steve and his wife Susan, a Tulsa native whom he met at the UA, also have a son, Kirk, who played football for Tulsa and now works for an insurance company.

"Kirk played on two state high school championship teams in New Orleans," Walters said. "And Kasey was an all-state volleyball player in Massachusetts. She might be the best athlete in our family. She plans to get her master's in education."

Walters, in his 23rd year of pro coaching, is well fixed under the NFL's pension program.

"It hardly seems possible it's been 23 years," he said.

Or 35 years since he was a Razorback.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories