"Thankfully for me, I've been playing football since I was five years old, started out peewee, a little boy at five," a smiling Walker said. "So I know forever my dream was to play pro and to go to the NFL. And thankfully, with the blessing of God, that opportunity has permitted me now."
Walker will forgo his senior season at Notre Dame and enter the April draft. He'll prepare for the NFL combine in Indianapolis, an event that Walker will have to score high at to be a first day pick. While training for that, he'll take 15 credit hours of classes next semester, leaving him around four classes short of graduation. Head coach Charlie Weis, who was not in attendance, made crystal clear how important getting a degree is for one of his football players.
"On Tuesday, Darius Walker and his parents informed me of his intent to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft," Weis stated in a statement released to the media. "He guaranteed me he would graduate from Notre Dame in the near future. Although disappointed, we wish him nothing but the best."
Walker has generated a lengthy list of accomplishments. He leaves Notre Dame as the school's fourth leading rusher in history, amassing 3,249 yards. Walker ranks third in total carries (693) and rushing yards per game for a career (90.3). He's No. 1 in career receptions for a running back at 109 and No. 1 for a single season at 56. Walker started 27 of 36 games and his numbers only got better through the years. His yards per carry went up from 4.2 as a freshman to 5.0 this season. Also, Walker ends his career with his best season from a yardage standpoint at 1,267 yards. He was one of the bright spots in the 41-14 Sugar Bowl loss to LSU, gaining 132 yards on the ground. Walker carefully weighed the move to the professional ranks.
"I sat down, spoke with the folks and all of the people who have influenced me and have supported me and everything," Walker said. "I wrote down the pros and cons, all that type of things and just really feel like it's the right thing for me to do at this time. It's the right thing for me to go on and to go to the NFL now rather than wait."
Waiting would have left him as the No. 1 running back for the 2007 season. But how many carries would Walker have garnered? In 2006, he rushed the ball 255 times in addition to 56 receptions. The next highest carry total for a running back was freshman James Aldridge with 37. However, with a fully healthy Aldridge, shifty sophomore Munir Prince and incoming speedster Armando Allen in the mix, there was no guarantee that Walker would once again seen 311 touches. According to Walker, this did not factor into the decision process.
"That was something I didn't even really think about that," Walker said. "That was something that never occurred to me, nor did I have any discussions or anything like that about something like that."
It does leave Notre Dame with a pool of players to pick from to replace Walker. The group is high on talent but short on experience. The player with the most carries coming back is Travis Thomas with 101. He has applied for a fifth-year but it's not certain as to whether he'll move back to running back or stay at linebacker. If Thomas does stay on the defensive side of the ball, Aldridge and Prince should get the most attention heading into spring practice with early enrollee Allen hot on their heels.
"I definitely think it's a great group of guys coming back," Walker said. "James Aldridge and Munir Prince both, I've gotten a chance to get to know them this season and this year a lot because we were roommates. Got a chance to form relationships and bonds with those guys. Those two are two great players and guys that really want to get out there and to me the thing that is encouraging about them is they don't mind working for it."
As for Walker, he has not hired an agent yet but said that was the next step in the process. He doesn't care what team chooses him in the NFL Draft. Walker has thought of this moment since he was young and he feels his abilities will make him a valued asset on the next level.
"I think I can do it all," Walker said. "I don't want to sound conceited or whatever. I feel like I've been able to show what I can do. I can run the ball, catch the ball, block, everything that a running back is supposed to do. I feel like I've been able to get better in every aspect of my game from year to year, so I definitely feel like that's an upside to me."
***Coming tomorrow morning, some NFL Draft experts give their opinions on Darius Walker's decision to leave school a season early and how he'll project into the profession game.