Razorback Q&A: Gavin Walls
Entering the 2002 season, one of the biggest question marks for this Razorback team was the defensive line. Many fans feared that the Hogs lacked the size and depth to stop the run and pressure the quarterback in the SEC. If those same fans had been told that this team would play the majority of the season without Jermaine Brooks or Keith Turner, they might have had a panic attack. Yet despite the loss of these two experienced playmakers, the Hog d-line has been a pleasant surprise. Some of them are young with little or no experience, and some of them are playing the position for the first time, but somehow they've found a way to make it work.
One of the biggest reasons is senior defensive end Gavin Walls. The 6-2 225 pound Virginia native converted from his natural linebacker position in the off season and has never looked back. Walls has been a force all season, especially as a pass rusher. Tallying a team-leading five sacks and 11 tackles for loss, the hard-hitting Walls has been a menace to opposing quarterbacks. Gavin really personifies the Razorback defense perfectly. He may be undersized, but he only has one gear; fast. He attacks the line of scrimmage with intense aggression and doesn't stop until the whistle blows.
Walls has also has had a hand in the Hogs' penchant for taking the ball away from opponents, forcing two fumbles and even coming up with an interception against South Carolina. Constantly fighting against bigger, stronger linemen, Walls knows about overcoming the odds. Walls spoke with Hawgs Illustrated as he and his teammates prepare to take on another Goliath in the Georgia Bulldogs for the SEC championship.
Hawgs Illustrated: Have you guys realized yet exactly what you accomplished Friday night against LSU?
Gavin Walls: It has sunk in that we are the champs of the West. It's a great feeling and we're going to live with it because we worked hard to get here. But at the same time, we have some unfinished business. We're not just trying to take the West. We're trying to take the whole conference and we're not going to rest until we get that done. We're not going to be satisfied until we get the whole thing.
HI: Is it motivation for you guys when you see people still writing you off and already talking about what's going to happen when you lose?
GW: It's not really motivation anymore. Before the year we picked last and all that really goes out of the door. As a family we stay together, no matter what they say. But we're not worried about a bowl right now. We just want to go out here and get this win and we're focused on that. We're not settling for anything less, just like we didn't settle two weeks ago. A lot of people didn't think we would be in Atlanta.
HI: Six weeks ago you guys are coming off of the loss against Kentucky. Did you really believe that you would be where you are now?
GW: Regardless of the adversity, ever since two-a-days we had a plan to go to Atlanta. Even after that loss to Kentucky, we put that loss behind us and we focused on the next week. We don't dwell on a loss. You can only take one game at a time anyways, especially in this conference.
HI: How many times did you hear the song "Welcome to Atlanta" after the game Friday?
GW: It was played a lot. It was a great feeling. I can't remember how many times people played it. There was so much emotion that I can't even remember hearing it. I just remember the fans jumping on the field and congratulating us on the win. A lot of people counted us out. They do that and that's fine because they're not out here playing anyway.
HI: What is it about the Rock?
GW: I've only been here two years and it's real different. There is a great feeling inside of it. It motivates you to play. It's really indescribable. You just have to be there.
HI: How has the transition been for you, moving from linebacker to d-line?
GW: It was very difficult at first. It wasn't totally new to me but it took me a while to get back into the rhythm. It doesn't matter where I play. Just get me on the field because I want to make plays for the defense. It's a good thing that I'm on a great defense where the other guys make plays. We're all competing and having fun and everything is happening.
HI: Is d-end more of an instinctive position?
GW: Yeah. It's more of just going straight. But it's harder than linebacker in some ways. How many guys my size go in and wrestle with SEC linemen and get past them and have as many sacks as I have? It's just all about your heart and how bad you want it. Size doesn't matter to me. I don't care how big they are lined up in front of me. I just try to get the job done.
HI: The line has struggled through some adversity with the loss of Brooks and Turner. Has that pulled you guys together as a unit?
GW: Yeah. As you can see, I've got 48 and 97 (Brooks and Turner's numbers) on my shoe and I've worn the same cleats all year. Adversity happens every day on and off the field. Some tragic things happened. Even though they can't play out her with us physically, I try to bring them inside of me and play for them. There have been some tough times this year. We're just trying to look over that and coming together as a team.
HI: You played against Michael Vick in high school. Did you ever think he would be as good as he has become?
GW: I kinda always thought he would be in the NFL one day. I didn't know if it would be as a quarterback or any other position. But he's doing great out there and I'm glad to see a player out there showing the world that people from Virginia can work it. He set an example and got there faster than a lot of us. I'm just trying to follow in his footsteps and get to where he is and show him what I can do. Hopefully I'll get to play him again, but he already knows.
HI: What is most important to you around Christmas?
GW: My last few Christmases haven't been that great. They haven't been like the ones I had before because I haven't been at home. It's really different. Normally I'm on my own. Christmas is like a normal day to me.
HI: What's the number one thing you're looking for underneath the tree on Christmas morning?
GW: Really I'm not looking for any presents I just want to get to the Sugar Bowl and that will be my gift. I don't need nothing from nobody, as long as we get this win. I know I'll get a lot of stuff from the Sugar Bowl. That's all I'm shooting for. That's all I want for Christmas.