Walkins A Threat To Go The Distance

Fullback Derrick Graves says the moves he sees Joe Walkins make on a football field can be hard to believe. Graves is a teammate and a member of the punt return team that was a highlight of Auburn's season-opening shutout victory over Ball State last Saturday.

Walkins carved up Ball State's punt coverage team for 109 yards on six returns. He had only one return of less than 10 yards. With more than 80,000 fans witnessing the freshman's performance, the roster of those who get to enjoy watching the punt returner's elusiveness and superior quickness has grown considerably.

"I believe Joe can break any return he gets kicked to him," says Graves, who blocks for Walkins on returns. "He has the ability to do it as long as we take care of our blocks. I'm confident that he is going to break one soon."

Walkins' next chance will be Saturday when the Tigers face Ole Miss. The five-foot-eight, 185-pound wideout says he knows the Rebels will be prepared.

"I'm pretty sure they watched film from the Ball State game," Walkins says. "Ole Miss has more speed than Ball State did and they are going to be bigger, stronger and faster. We just have to do our job and get our assignments right so hopefully we'll have a chance to make some big plays on special teams."

Making big plays on special teams is nothing new to Walkins. As a senior at Dillard High in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., he averaged 33.6 yards per punt return and 42.5 on kickoff returns. His last punt return for a touchdown was a 76-yarder in the state playoffs his senior year in the third quarter of a tight contest vs. Plantation High. Dillard went on to win the game.

After redshirting last season, Walkins picked up where he left off from high school in the season-opener vs. Ball State. On the first punt return of his collegiate career, he went 38 yards to help set up the Tigers' first touchdown of the season. "Punt returning is a total team effort," Walkins says. "No one man can do the job, you need all 11 to get positive yards."

Auburn's punt return unit, especially Joe Walkins, should be licking its chops if last week's Rebel punting exhibition is any indication of what will be in store for them Saturday. Cody Ridgeway had an average of just 34 yards on three punts and the only one their opponent (Division I-AA Murray State Racers) returned went for 81 yards.

Walkins says he knows this week will be tougher than his first outing but if he can duplicate his magic from Saturday against the Rebels, it could go a long way in propelling the Tigers to an important conference-opening win.


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