Walker is up to the Challenge

Freshman running back Darius Walker reported to Notre Dame earlier this month with a mountain of expectations strapped to his back. The 5-11, 200-pound running back has been slated by many to be Notre Dame's next great running back. Walker says he's just trying to find his way early in his freshman season.

When you break Herschel Walker's single-season touchdown mark in high school, people take notice. When you rush for 5,675 yards and 91 touchdowns during your high school career, people get excited. Darius Walker knows everyone has high expectations for his career at Notre Dame, but none have higher expectations than he does for himself.

It's only 10 days into fall camp and the Darius Walker express is starting to pick up steam.

"I'm adjusting pretty good," Walker said of his first experiences playing college football. "It's a lot different in a bunch of aspects from high school—not only system-wise, but the level of intensity in practice and just the general way that they do things."

The talent Walker possesses would put him on the field right away at any school. But, learning the plays is often what keeps many talented players on the sidelines. Walker says he can relate.

"The hardest thing for me has been is just trying to learn the system," Walker said. "The plays are so much more advanced and the protections are so much more advanced than I'm used to. That's something that I've got to get used to.

"Overall, I think it's going well. I'm learning a lot from the upperclassmen. It's all going good for me right now."

Blocking is not something the former Georgia Gatorade player of the year has had much experience with--touchdowns has been Walker's specialty. It should come as no surprise the Lawrenceville, Ga. native has struggled with the pass blocking aspect of the Irish offense.

"I think the protection is probably the hardest thing because you check from MIKE to WILL linebackers, you have to block the ends," Walker said. "You really have to know what you are doing out there.

"Then some of the mistakes you make out there, I think, is getting out there and having to think too much. The main thing for me is to try to learn all that and watch the older guys ahead of me."

The jump for most high school players from their prep careers to college football can be a big one. For Walker, he said it hasn't been as difficult as he thought it would be.

"The thing that I was kind of surprised about was the fact that people were telling me that the speed of the game changes so much from going from level of level," Walker said. "For me personally, I haven't seen too much of a change in that aspect of it so that was a good thing for me."

The speed of the game might not be different, but Walker certainly remembers his first big hit of college football.

"The biggest hit I got was from Corey (Mays)," Walker said. "I knew I had him in protection and I had to hit him, and he kind of drove me back a little bit. It's good to get introduced to that kind of stuff early so when it comes to the games it won't be a shock."

The former EA Sports All-American is now in a fierce battle with a talented group of backs for playing time this season. Walker says he's enjoying the competition.

"I'm always looking forward to competition," he said. "What I planned on doing was coming in and kind of raising the level of everyone around me. I'm glad that the backs are playing at a high level. The competition is fine. I love it. I'm up to the challenge, I guess."

Walker admits he'd love to see the field this season, but the former Georgia all-state player says he just wants the team to win more than anything.

"Most of all, I'd like for the team to do well," Walker said. "I know what the tradition has been like here so I know we really want to get back to where it is, but I'd love to play."

When asked if he felt he had a chance to play this season, Walker said: "I could see myself getting in there and playing right now, definitely."

Adding to the mountain of expectations hovering over him, Walker was given the esteemed No. 3 jersey when he reported to Notre Dame. Walker is well aware of the tradition of this jersey.

"My number in high school was seven. That was something that I wanted to get when I came up here," Walker said. "But Carlyle (Holiday) stayed another year and decided to keep the number. When I talked to coach Willingham, I told him I wanted a single digit number if I couldn't get No. 7. He said all the numbers were taken, and really the only number left was three. I guess it just kind of worked out for me."

Will Walker still want the number when Holiday has moved on to the NFL?

"It's questionable," he said. "I guess it kind of depends on how I do this season and how the season goes. We'll see."

The expectations are very high for Walker and he is well aware of that. Speaking to him has always been a joy, and his first interview as an Irish player went as well as everything in Walker's football life—smooth. There's no question in our minds that Walker will be a bigger success off the field than on, and that's saying a lot considering how well we think he'll do in his career at Notre Dame.


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