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Walker commits to Irish

Pat Leonard | Friday, January 23, 2004

Tyrone Willingham had received 10 verbal commitments as of Wednesday night, but the Irish recruiting class was still lacking a star player.Notre Dame may have secured that player in Darius Walker.The Georgia running back broke his silence after three official visits to competing schools and committed to Notre Dame Thursday afternoon during a press conference at Buford High School in Lawrenceville, Ga.Walker was Notre Dame’s priority recruit, especially after quarterback Brian Brohm committed to Louisville on Tuesday. After visiting Stanford, Ohio State and Alabama within a one-week span and receiving 60 offers over the recruiting process, he decided it was time.”I had seen enough of each school to make a decision,” Walker said from his home Thursday night. “I sat down with my family, and we discussed the pros and cons of each school. Coach Willingham is very intelligent and personable, which is something I was looking for in a head coach and not just the position coaches.”Walker made an unofficial visit to Notre Dame in the fall. Listed as 5-foot-11, 200 pounds, he rushed for 2,048 yards and 46 touchdowns in his senior season for the state champion Buford Wolves. The 46 touchdowns broke the Georgia high school single-season rushing touchdown record of 45 set by former Georgia Bulldog and NFL running back Herschel Walker in 1979.Walker said the history of Notre Dame’s football success attracted him. He is eager for his chance to become a part of the tradition.”I want to come in and do as well as I possibly can,” Walker said. “I want to play and contribute early, and I want to rally behind the guys who are already there and bring the program back to where it was.”Irish Insider columnist Mike Frank believes Walker’s signing is a big gain for the Irish.”This is a huge pick up for Coach Willingham,” Frank said. “What Walker gives you is some star quality to the class. Hopefully that will put the rest in motion so they can finish strong.”As Frank indicated, Walker’s commitment could attract other remaining big names to the Irish as signing day draws closer.According to Frank, 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive lineman Allen Smith of Tucson, Ariz., inquired earlier in the week about Walker’s decision.Smith made his official visit to South Bend on Oct. 17 and has scheduled an unofficial visit this weekend.Walker and Smith will both be taking their official visits this weekend to Notre Dame. Joining him will be quarterback Darrin Bragg, cornerback Leo Ferrine, wide receiver Christopher Vaughn, and cornerback/wide receiver Darcell McBath.At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, Bragg threw for just under 2,000 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions for Bellarmine College Prep School in San Jose, Calif.Ferrine and McBath each stand 6-foot, 175 pounds. Ferrine runs a 4.39 40-yard dash. Vaughn has played just two years of football at St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Conn. but the 6-foot-4, 201-pound receiver has received interest from Boston College, Iowa, UCLA and Michigan State.Also visiting this weekend are verbal commits quarterback David Wolke and offensive lineman Brandon Nicholas.Georgia linebacker Jae Thaxton cancelled a visit scheduled for this weekend. He will decide between Georgia and Florida State.Smith is now a high priority for the Irish with the securing of Walker. Walker’s announcement Thursday, however, was huge for a struggling Notre Dame recruiting season.”He [Walker] seems like a natural born leader,” Frank said, “and if there’s any position I think a player can play early, it’s tailback, because of their situation and because it’s such an instinctual position. He’s got excellent vision and he’s a powerful runner.”He reminds me a lot of an Emmitt Smith-type runner.”