Darius Walker knows how to win. The former Gatorade player of the year won three state titles playing for his Buford, Georgia high school team. Winning is the one things Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham liked the most about his freshman tailback when he first started recruiting him.
"He had the ability to make things happen, probably more than just one particular game; you like to look at a young man for a career," said Willingham when asked what attracted him to Walker.
"The thing that most excites me is winning. I think his team, if not won three in a row, won two and played in three state championships. So that's what attracts me.
"I like guys that win. There's just something about them. They make plays at the right time and they step it up. I think he did a great job of stepping in and stepping up in his performance against Michigan."
Winning might've been the reason Willingham called on Walker in last week's Michigan game. Down 9-0 at halftime, the Irish needed a spark and Walker delivered with 115 yards and two touchdowns--oh, and he also won.
Willingham said he wasn't surprised in the slightest to see Walker pick up his team and carry them on his back to the finish line.
"Playing in a state championship is not the same as lining up in Notre Dame Stadium with Michigan on the other side," said Willingham when asked why he had confidence in Walker. "But he's had some bright lights in front of him, so I didn't think he would get star struck by the lights. I thought he would step in and do pretty much exactly what he did."
And what he did was quite remarkable for a freshman, but maybe we shouldn't be surprised coming from a player who led his team on a 45-game winning streak.
Walker is probably the most confident freshman we've ever been around, but we can't stress enough that his confidence shouldn't be confused with cockiness. The guy simply believes he's a great player and practices and performs as such.
"It's gotten a little more busier I would say," said Walker of the attention he's received after his Michigan performance. "I'm handling it alright I guess."
Walker admits he was excited to watch the replay of his first college game.
"I got a chance to catch it," he said. "It was interesting. It's just kind of weird being on the field and actually seeing yourself.
"I'm used to seeing all the big-time players out there running the ball. To actually see yourself on there and then hear the commentators talk about you a little bit is a little cool I guess."
Despite breaking Hershel Walker's single-season touchdown record for the state of Georgia in his senior year last season, Walker's first collegiate touchdown was emotional for the freshman tailback.
"I guess because it was my first actual college touchdown," Walker said when asked why he was so excited after his first trip to the end zone. "It was a little sentimental for me, especially on the first one. I couldn't believe that I was even out there playing at first, and then for me to get a touchdown kind of made it a little crazy. I was real excited about it."
His 31 carries last Saturday is a lot for any player, let alone a freshman, but Walker says he wasn't surprised he saw so much action in the Michigan game.
"I don't know if I was necessarily surprised," Walker said. "I was up to help the team out anyway I could no matter where that was. I just wanted to get out there and play, and if I could help out, cool, if not, as long as we get the W."
Walker's performance, as well as the entire team's, whipped the Irish fans into a frenzy after their big victory over Michigan on Saturday and Walker got bombarded with swarming fans who rushed the field after the Irish victory.
"That got a little out of hand a little bit," said Walker of the celebration after their victory. "I wasn't expecting them to storm the field like they did. I guess everybody was excited, I was excited as well."
But it was the Irish fans that played a big role in Walker choosing to come to Notre Dame. The freshman phenom visited South Bend last season during the Florida State game—a game where the Irish were blown out 37-0. It was the Irish fan's support after such a crushing defeat that made a big impact on Walker and his feelings towards Notre Dame.
"What was spectacular, I thought, was that even though the team didn't do as well as they wanted, the fans still recognized that we're still Notre Dame and we're still a family and everyone is kind of in it," Walker said. "I just felt there was a family unity within the team and within the student body and within the fans and that was very special to me."
Walker's performance on Saturday introduced him to college football, and he realizes that he won't be hiding in the shadows any longer.
"I'm kind of used to that from high school," said Walker when ask if he thought teams would be gunning for him. "I guess I kind of do have a target on my chest after last game, but I'm up for the challenge."
But will we see Walker lining up with the first unit on Saturday?
"I don't know about all that," Walker said with a laugh. "I just want the team to do well."
But, seriously, how can a freshman handle the media so smoothly?
"My interest, as far as a major goes, is going to be performing arts. I'd like to try do a little acting. Maybe this is a little practice," Walker said with a big smile.