What have you accomplished or experienced this week? Maybe you crossed off two of the 57 items on your holiday shopping list, and a little bit of progress catching up on email. Perhaps you decorated your Christmas tree and have more of your holiday decorations hanging in the home. As you swig a tall glass of egg nog this afternoon to reward yourself, be mindful of the truly amazing week that Buford (GA) running back Darius Walker has experienced.
- This past Saturday he pushed his #1 Buford Wolves (13-0) through the Georgia state quarterfinals with a 30-12 win over #8 Cook, which means he will play every year of his high school career in the Georgia Dome. The semifinals against undefeated #5 Decatur this Saturday will be played at the Dome, as will the finals the following weekend. During this lucky 13th win of the year, Walker broke the 2000-yard barrier for the season with 148 yards on 27 carries, including four scores. Those touchdowns were particularly meaningful, given that he now has 44 on the ground this year. He broke Herschel Walker's single-season rushing TDs record for the state and is now just one away from tying the total touchdowns record of 45 held by Walker and Charles Grant. To say that the present-day Walker is breaking into elite company is an understatement, and it is all but certain that he will this Saturday break into new uncharted territory.
- Notre Dame head coach Tyrone Willingham made a bold move Monday and spent the entire day, from 8:30 in the morning to the wee hours of the night, with the top tailback target. For a coach so notorious for his lax recruiting efforts and approach, this was a bold move. College head coaches are only allowed one in-home visit per recruit, and those are almost always held until the very last stages of a recruit's decision. Walker won't be deciding on his college home until deep in January, and Willingham knows that he will not be able to go into the Walker Home next month. But given that Notre Dame is behind the eight ball on quite a few top talents this recruiting season, it was probably a smart move to be bold at these tenuous times. For now, the impact was as intended for the Irish. "It was definitely a big plus for Notre Dame to come this early," the recruit reveals. "It shows how high their interest level is in me."
- Stanford was not sitting on their hands, however. Southeast recruiting dynamo and offensive coordinator David Kelly was also in town on Monday, and he shared time with Walker, including sitting through a chorus concert of Walker's that evening. While Kelly did not enjoy the evening in-home face time that Notre Dame snagged, he will be back shortly. And Walker is eager for the return. "Coach Kelly is a very personable guy," Walker describes. "He's like family to us here, and that's something I look for in a coach." Willingham admitted in front of Kelly to the Walker family that he lost too many battles to the Stanford Associate Head Coach last year, which was one reason the head Domer had to come to town. But any advantage he accrued Monday was trumped yesterday when the biggest news of Darius Walker's recruitment hit. He was accepted by Stanford's Admissions Office that day and immediately notified by Cardinal head coach Buddy Teevens. "I can't tell you how thrilled we all are," the Buford back exclaims. "I know Stanford is such a hard place to get into, and this really boosts Stanford's chances." For those who watch admissions numbers closely for Stanford, there had been concern that he was on shaky ground with his 970 SAT, but few knew that he retook the standardized test in November and bumped his score to a 1050. That combined with his perfect 4.0 GPA, #1 standing in his high school class, and a deep extra-curricular set of music and choral activities, gave him a well deserved acceptance. Now finally Stanford is on even ground with the competition, with his offer unconditional.
There is much on Darius Walker's plate right now, to be sure. "I'm pretty busy now, with everybody able to call and visit me as they please," he notes. And that includes just about every school in the country begging him for an official visit. He has previously set up four trips, though the Ohio State jaunt was scrapped when Buford made their playoff surge. He still has set official visits to Stanford (1/9), Notre Dame (1/16) and USC (1/23).
That puts his list of schools at nine, which gives us little more information than he has dished out for the last six months. You have undoubtedly seen his list of 10 or 11 schools that he has maintained as "leaders" throughout the process, but Walker tells The Bootleg for the first time that he has a slightly narrowed focus.
"I would say there is a top four right now," he reveals. "Stanford, Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC."
With Walker likely to play this weekend and next, December's official visit slots are gone. The first three NCAA-allowed visit weekends of January are filled as well, which makes it problematic for the elite runner to squeeze his full five visits. But for now, he does not want to explore all that too deeply. "I really want to focus on the finish of my high school season," he answers. "I will get back to recruiting after that."
So will we, Darius. And Cardinal fans will be hanging on your every word.
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