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Walker debuts as promising back

Matt Puglisi | Monday, September 13, 2004

Freshman running back Darius Walker saw no action against Brigham Young in Notre Dame’s first game. The next week, against one of Notre Dame’s biggest rivals, Walker grinded out 115 yards and scored a pair of crucial fourth quarter touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner.So how did he feel?”Oh, I was beat,” Walker said.Carrying the ball a total of 31 times, the Walker put the offense on his back in the deciding final period, picking up 61 yards and chewing up clock to lead the Irish to a rousing 28-20 upset victory over rival No. 8 Michigan (1-1).”I really can’t put it into words,” Walker said. “The exciting part is that we won. We’ve been hearing a lot of stuff of about this big Michigan team, and for us to beat them like we did, it’s kind of exciting.”One week after the Irish (1-1) running game almost failed to record double digits in rushing yards – a meager 11 yards against BYU – the rejuvenated ground game racked up 135 yards en route to victory.Walker pointed to the offensive line as the true key to his success.”The offensive line – I’ve got to give all the credit to, it really wasn’t me that was doing the work,” Walker said. “They opened up the holes, and I just ran through them.”The line, however, wasn’t about to take all the credit for the freshman’s big first day.”You’ve got to have a guy back there that knows he has that touchdown and that it’s not going to be taken from him,” left tackle Ryan Harris said. “I love that attitude, and it’s infectious to a lot of guys.”Walker got his first taste of the end zone with 13 minutes, 48 seconds left in the fourth quarter, sweeping to his right and into the end zone untouched.”First time in the end zone, wow,” Walker said. “I don’t really know what I was thinking about, I just heard everybody screaming, and then the guys came jumping up on me so it was an exciting feeling. Scoring a touchdown, and for it to be my first game, and then for us to win too, I just can’t put it into words.”The touchdown was the first by an Irish freshman since receiver Maurice Stovall hauled in a pass from Carlyle Holiday against Rutgers in November of 2002.The go-ahead score staked Notre Dame to a 14-12 lead – its first of the contest – and Walker and Irish wasted little time extending the advantage.After tight end Jerome Collins blocked a Wolverine punt and linebacker Derek Curry pounced on the loose ball, Walker was in position for his second trip to pay-dirt.Shedding a pair of would-be Michigan tacklers in cornerback Markus Curry and linebacker Lawrence Reid, Walker galloped into the left corner of the end zone from five yards out to put Notre Dame on top for good and help secure the third straight Irish win over the Wolverines at Notre Dame Stadium.Walker holds the record for touchdowns in a Georgia high school season with 46 his senior year, but the two on Saturday were totally different.The score marked the first time since November 2000 that a Notre Dame freshman has run for a pair of touchdowns, when Matt LoVecchio accomplished the same feat in a win over USC.Walker’s running impressed the Irish and Wolverines, alike.”[Walker] did a heck of job in there for a freshman,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “He’s a slippery guy. I think he’s a good football player.”While Walker’s first game left many fans scrambling to discover where this freshman phenom came from, coach Tyrone Willingham knew what he would be getting when he recruited Walker from Buford, Ga. last winter and mixed him into the offensive equation Saturday. “A spark has a tendency to make everyone else do their job a little better,” Willingham said. “I had no lack of confidence of Darius, being a true freshman, stepping in and having that running game.”After not receiving the opportunity to play in Notre Dame’s disappointing 20-17 season-opening loss to BYU and missing most of the first quarter Saturday, Walker got an opportunity to help his team establish a consistent offense.”I’m just going to work hard and keep doing what I’m doing, Walker said. “Our offensive line was opening holes up today, so if we keep working hard, we can still do what we did … hopefully we can go give it to Michigan State.”