A two-year wait he meant, plus one game. A 2012 Mississippi State signee, Walley spent his first season on campus redshirting; then the second on the injured list after an August elbow injury. So he was due to make his debut last weekend in the 2014 season-opener, right? Well, there was a complication to the situation.
“Last week I had to sit out with a concussion, and it killed me,” said Walley. He got to warm-up with the team but did not get on the field for-real, just one more delay in a career disrupted more than enough already. It meant the last un-activated player from the 2012 recruiting class was still sidelined. “But I just knew I had to wait my time and be patient, I knew my time would come.”
It did. Did it ever.
Even better, in a moment that mattered. Walley was worked into the tight end rotation early as Mississippi State figured out this position would cause the Blazer defense issues. Still he had yet to be a target until late in the second quarter, after UAB had taken a 20-19 lead. During a previous drive comrade TE Brandon Hill had got one touchdown drive going with a 40-yard catch-and-run.
This equally key possession stayed mostly on the ground as QB Dak Prescott and RB Josh Robinson pounded a tiring Blazer defense. Smart, since UAB had no timeouts left to force any kind of break. Inside six minutes it was 2nd-and-10 on the UAB 20-yard line when Coach Dan Mullen figured it was time to involve his other eligible receivers with a passing play.
“It was designed to go to both our tight ends,” Walley said. Meaning either, of course. “We had to read the safety, and the safety has to choose me or Brandon. He chose Brandon. As soon as the safety bit on Brandon, I was like oh I’m wide-open! I took my break and looked for the ball and Dak threw a great pass. It was perfect.”
Perfect for a 20-yard touchdown, and a perfect sort of debut-Dog story. Walley confessed to having some nerves while the throw was in-air. “As soon as I broke and saw the ball it was like slow-motion. I was like please don’t let somebody come over my shoulder and knock this ball down! Luckily they didn’t and I was wide-open.”
For his first college catch of any sort, and a touchdown to boot. Writing such a script would offend even Hollywood. Walley wasn’t worried.
“I just wanted to win. I really just didn’t care about myself, I wanted to win. I wanted a great victory for the entire team.” A victory the Bulldogs got, 47-34, and not least because Walley, Hill, and Malcolm Johnson combined for four of the 14 catches and 81 yards. But then it was Walley’s which stood out given the situation for his team—the touchdown put the Bulldog on top to stay—and for himself.
Two years is a long wait to play football by any measure. Especially when injuries interrupt careers and a young ballplayer sees others at his own position thriving in the offensive scheme. Yes, Walley said, it took a toll.
“Man, I can’t lie to you. Quitting has been through my mind on a couple of times. But I knew I had to stick with it and I wasn’t ready to be a quitter. My coaches supported me and my teammates supported me. So I had to stick with it.”
It didn’t hurt having lots of club encouragement. Which might make for an interesting week of practice by the way; with Walley and Hill stepping up big this game, does senior and Mackey Award candidate Johnson feel any pressure to raise his own game? Walley laughed at the suggestion.
“Malcolm is like my older brother. Since I came in he kind of adopted me and I’ve got to thank Malcolm for all the success I had today. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t have had any of it.”
Now that he’s had a taste of college triumph and found an end zone for the first time, Walley surely wants to have more of it.
“A dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this my whole life. It’s crazy.”