Coming off his last year at Coffeyville Junior College, that's all anyone could really talk about.
After he transferred to Nebraska, that's all anyone else could really ask about.
22 sacks. Oh yeah and Mike Rozier.
The fellow New Jersey native had to come up as Rozier himself was once at Coffeyville and if Rozier could achieve so much, what could Wali Muhammad do?
Ok, that's putting the cart before the horse a bit. Actually, quite a bit, but 22 sacks is 22 sacks.
That's a ton.
So, you go into your first year with Nebraska, feeling good, coming off a great season and hopeful for the future. Little did Muhammad know, the future was farther away than he thought.
Suffering from a back ailment that was crippling enough with pain that it sent Muhammad to the hospital overnight, before Muahammad's debut could even begin, it was over. And though Wali himself was always resolute in his own mind to play no matter what, even he was worried if that was really it. "I thought so after the bowl game." Wali said of being worried that the back problem could be serious. "I knew I had to just come in and work and if I had to play with the injury still, as long as I am in shape and can run, I would have played through it."
Such would not be the case, Muhammad not playing all of last year, but Wali doesn't look at that time now as wasted opportunities, rather opportunities to see what this level of play was all about, readying himself even more for when he finally hit the field. "It made me realize how this game looked." Muhammad said of the time off. "I had a fresh start with all the new coaches and I feel real good about it right now."
Feeling good translates to a lot of things for Wali, first and foremost being the 10 lbs. Less he's coming in at, dropping to 240 lbs rolling into this Spring. Another good aspect is his new position coach, a coach he compares to another coach in his life, Wali Muhammad senior who is also a former professional boxer. "My dad IS here." Muhammad stated of comparing John Blake to his father. "Coach Blake, it seems like that 'tough love' kind of coach."
"The first day he was here, I was late for a class
so I had to wake up at 5:30 in the morning and run and I didn't even know him.
He's there to teach me, so I am going to do it."
Muhammad's embrace of the new defensive line coach isn't singular by any means. All of the defensive line players that I have talked to thus far are actually enjoying the presence of the former NFL defensive line coach.
Being a former NFL defensive line coach is part of the reason as well, the players knowing that when Blake yells at you, he's not doing it just to do it, there's a reason. "He's been working with the best." Wali said. "Sean Taylor, a lot of guys in the league as he's got the Super Bowl rings."
"You just got to do what you got to do for him."
To that end, Wali knows exactly what he has to do...........get to the quarterback. Granted, the rush end does much more than just pin it back and head for the guy back-pedaling from center, but one year, he did have 22 sacks.
And, Wali will be doing that playing behind Adam Carriker, who is currently slated as the number one at the right defensive end spot. Being the number two though, it's more than likely that you'll see Muhammad on a frequent basis as well as his counterpart on two-deep on the left side, Jay Moore, who also hits the two-deep for the first time since he arrived on campus. "Me and Jay (Moore) are definitely going to bring a whole new level to it." Wali said. "He was hurt last year, I was hurt last year, so we are just two young boys ready to come out."
If that happens and both Moore and Muhammad come into their own, this could be the deepest RE unit Nebraska has had in years. Throughout the Spring and especially during the annual Red/White game though, fans should get an even clearer picture.
The fans however aren't the only ones chomping at the bit for April 17th to arrive. "I am just ready to get this Spring game (going)." Wali said. "The Spring game is on my birthday, so I can't wish for nothing more than a good game."
Even without a great game from the New Jersey native, Muhammad is basically cemented at number two. With a great game though, Wali could give Carriker all he can handle for that coveted number one spot.
And, oh yes, a blackshirt.
The infamous blackshirt, that indicator of defensive excellence, for all Nebraska defensive players, that's the goal each tries to reach. While they aren't given out during the Spring traditionally, it still doesn't stop Muhammad from thinking of getting one.
Actually, he doesn't think he's getting one, he feels it. Just as he doesn't feel the pain in his back anymore, he feels more strongly that he's ready to finally get to where he was hoping to be the year he arrived at NU. More explosive than ever, faster than ever, the only thing he's thinking about when it comes to his back are the words emblazoned on it as he's ready to reach for the sky.
"I don't even have to have a blackshirt, but if I am making it happen, they've got to give me one." Wali said. "And, I'll make it happen because I can't miss right now. That's my motto."
"I can't miss."
For the full audio interview with Wali along with other coaches, players and recruiting information, check out the RED ZONE.
Steve Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-730-5619