Three-star running back Darius Walker has been the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation for nearly a year, and only days ago he finally took his first official visit. The Buford (GA) back crossed the country last weekend for a trip that was not only his first time at Stanford, but also his first ever stay in the Golden State.
"It was my first time in California, and it was like a whole nother planet - perfect atmosphere, weather and people," the 5'11" tailback opens. "I had heard a lot of things from the coaches, but it exceeded my every expectation."
This, however, was not a trip all about daisies and fluffy white clouds. Walker had some questions on his mind he wanted to get answered about this school.
"Distance is one of the down parts about Stanford," he begins. "That was 4 1/2 hours on the plane each way. J.R. Lemon was my host and I asked him all about being so far from Georgia. He said it was the best move he had made in his life - said that you can do the work and graduate with a piece of paper that sets you for life. I asked him how often he gets home, and he said four or five times a year, which is actually as much as any other place. He also said that his dad gets out to see four or five games each fall."
Lemon and the other Stanford players also were pressed by Walker for a key question about how they manage the athletic and academic loads that seem so untenable on The Farm.
"I have to admit that's something I worry about," the conscientious student-athlete details. "How do you balance the high level academics of Stanford with the demands of football? They said there are tutors available to them and a lot of support. They say if you want to succeed, you will. The only way you can fail at Stanford is if you want to fail."
Another area of concern was the absence of some coaches who Stanford had let go. Walker spent the 48 hours of his official visit without his position coach and without the recruiting coach who he had known for a year.
"It was awkward being at Stanford and not seeing Coach Kelly," he admits. "He has been Stanford to me for so long. And it's a concern not having a running backs coach. I just want to wait and see who they bring in."
One sign that might grab your attention Walker's Stanford intention was the size of the entourage he brought with him. Not only did his mother and father come on the trip, but so too did his trainer, trainer's wife, aunt, uncle and cousin. The recruit, unsurprisingly, cautions not to read too much into it.
All in all, the trip helped Darius Walker feel better about some of the distant concerns with Stanford and gave him his first up-close look at the school and the program. He was nothing but positive on the experience and how it impacted him, but was it enough to shake things up and give the Cardinal momentum in his hotly contested recruitment?
"Stanford sits very high on my list, and they moved up with this visit," he opens. "They would have to be co-leaders with Notre Dame."
That sounds like bad news for Cardinal fans. As a rule in recruiting, your peak position should come on the heels of your official visit, and if Stanford did not shoot past the Irish with this weekend, then they will surely trail after his official to South Bend in two weeks. So is Notre Dame the team to beat in all this?
"I wouldn't say that," Walker answers. "That visit is going to be a big thing for me, but Stanford is the one who has set the standard for everyone else. They have to match what Stanford did this weekend."
Before the nationally prized tailback heads to Indiana in two weeks, though, he will visit Ohio State this weekend. The Buckeyes have not been regarded as a leader in his recruitment, and indeed the Georgian says they are a little behind Stanford and Notre Dame today. That does not curtail his excitement for his trip to Columbus to come, though.
"Ohio State is pretty high for me as well," he notes. "Their running backs coach is one of my favorite coaches, and they have a tradition of Heisman winners. You can't help but notice how much they've won on the field the last two years, too."
The end analysis is that Stanford did well for itself this weekend, but this still looks like too steep a mountain to climb. Notre Dame will not give a bad official visit, and neither will Ohio State for that matter. Walker has visited both unofficially, so he should not find negative surprises in store. Stanford linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator Tom Williams was in the home today and made more headway, but I doubt it will be enough. The only novel push the Cardinal staff can still make is with their running backs hire. It needs to be a man who can engage this recruit and inspire him to a Stanford future. Failing that, I see Walker elsewhere.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!