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Brandon Walker: One of Walker’s first kicks counts as his favorite

Michael Todisco | Thursday, November 11, 2010

Many athletes chose Notre Dame at the end of their recruiting process because of the University’s unique blend of athletic tradition and academic excellence. For senior kicker Brandon Walker, it was fate.

While kicking for his Midget football team in fifth grade, Walker’s talents were identified by his hometown Findlay, Ohio, high school football coach. The coach called Walker over and told him that if he kept kicking, one day he could end up playing for Notre Dame.

The young Walker shrugged off the coach’s prediction as a long shot. During his senior season at Findlay High School, it seemed that Walker’s skepticism was well founded. He had committed to play for Louisville under coach Bobby Petrino.

When Petrino fled Louisville for a job in the NFL, Walker’s decision-making process was reopened. Notre Dame was the first school to call. Thinking back to the words of his high school football coach, Walker knew that it was meant to be.

“When Notre Dame made me an offer, I took it as a sign that I needed to come here,” Walker said. “When I took my visit, the school was everything that I thought it would be and more. It just worked out perfectly.”

Walker’s time at Notre Dame was immediately met with immense pressure and mammoth expectations. As one of the nation’s top kicking prospects, Walker was part of the illustrious recruiting class that included quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receiver Golden Tate. The group of talented freshmen was expected to lead Notre Dame back to national prominence.

Walker earned the starting kicker role his freshman year, a season in which the Irish went 3-9. Walker said that his tumultuous freshman season was a difficult adjustment from high school.

“It was tough to be thrown in there as a freshman and start losing because all of us who had been recruited came from winning programs,” he said.

Although the season was a disappointing one for the Irish, Walker’s favorite memory from his time as a Notre Dame player came during that 2007 season.

In the game at UCLA, Walker kicked a crucial 48-yard field goal in the third quarter to lead the Irish to victory. Walker said he would always remember his big game at the Rose Bowl.

“The game at UCLA was definitely my defining moment on the field,” Walker said.

Walker said he remembers his strong performance that day with a special souvenir he acquired on the trip to Los Angeles.

“Coach Weis gave me the game ball that day, and it says ‘Rose Bowl’ right on it,” Walker said with a blend of reminiscence and pride. “I gave that to my parents as a Christmas gift to thank them for everything that they’ve done for me.”

Despite a slow start to his sophomore campaign, Walker finished the season strong, connecting on 13 of his last 17 attempts, including six field goals from beyond 40 yards. He even led the team in scoring despite missing the Boston College game.

Walker’s bright career took a back seat to his health in his junior year, when he suffered a serious back injury. The injury was a particularly difficult time for Walker, as he could not kick at all for the entire year. While Walker contemplated ending his football career, the unity from his teammates drove him to return to the squad.

“There was a time when I thought I would have to hang it up for good because of the injury,” Walker said. “It just wasn’t allowing me to do what I do best or perform at the level that I needed to, but no matter what the guys and coaches were always there for me. My desire to just be part of the team again is what motivated me to get back in shape.”

Walker’s greatest challenge at Notre Dame came not from his opponents, but rather from some of the fervent Irish fans. As a highly touted recruit, Walker certainly had high expectations from the Irish faithful. After struggles in his freshman and sophomore year and his injury junior year, some of the criticism from the fans became hard for Walker to handle.

“I know that the fans are really passionate, but it was really hard to hear some of their criticism,” Walker said. “We have really great fans, but at the same time I have heard plenty of really tough comments.”

After returning from injury, Walker faced stiff competition to regain his job. Nate Tausch and David Ruffer had two of the most successful seasons for kickers in Notre Dame history. After it became evident that he would not win the starting job for his junior or senior season, Walker began mentoring and teaching the young kickers.

“Many times they would come to me and ask for advice or asking me to watch their form if something wasn’t feeling right,” Walker said. “Definitely being here to help them was important not only for the football aspect but also with life. With Tausch coming in as a freshman, he had a few issues where he wanted to talk with me and I would always be available for him.”

Looking to the future, Walker predicted success for his own career and the Notre Dame football program.

“I was happy when Mendoza became the No. 1 business school just in time for me to graduate with my finance degree,” Walker said. “I am looking into the whole job process and I have a really good lead out in California.”

As for the Irish, Walker believes that coach Brian Kelly is the man for the job.

“Coach Kelly and his staff are perfect for this institution. What you guys see on the field may not be exactly what you want to see at the moment but everyone here is behind him and the changes are for the best.”

In a final assessment of his time at Notre Dame, one filled with highs and lows, praise and criticism, Walker said that he had not a single regret.

“Even though my career didn’t work out how I imagined, it is absolutely fate that I should be here all the way from Midget football, and I would not change a thing or one moment of my career.”