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Walker ready to run into the spotlight again

Mike Gilloon | Friday, September 2, 2005

Darius Walker showed his ability to adapt well to college life in 2004. He scored two touchdowns in his debut against Michigan, set the Irish freshman rushing record with 786 yards and maintained his composure when the coach who recruited him, Tyrone Willingham, was fired after three years.

But there’s one change the Irish running back wasn’t prepared for when Charlie Weis was hired as Irish coach on Dec. 12. – the playbook.

“Coach Weis gave us our phone books – that’s what I like to call them because they are so complex,” he said. “Coming in [as a freshman,] I got the playbook, and it was really complex. It was something new for me so I didn’t think it could get much worse. But then the next year coming in with this coaching staff, it not only got much worse, it got a lot worse.”

Walker and the Irish open the 2005 season Saturday at Pittsburgh, and he believes he will need to know the “phone book” well to run successfully against the Panthers and their defensive-minded coach Dave Wannstedt. Pittsburgh linebacker H.B. Blades and Wannstedt have both remarked on Walker’s ability and say he will be one of the main players on whom the Panther defense will focus.

The Panther defensive line is inexperienced, losing veteran tackles Vince Crochunis and Dan Stephens. And defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads wants to keep Walker from rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns like he did against Pittsburgh last season.

But Walker isn’t worried about the pressure that comes with being a marked man.

“I think I thrive on competition,” Walker said. “To hear [Blades] say that is actually good. I’d tell him to go in and come with it because I’m going to bring my ‘A’ game.”

Walker’s ‘A’ game will be explosive, especially with a strong effort from a seasoned offensive line.

Irish center John Sullivan, feels Walker’s ‘A’ game will be a treat to watch and block for.

“[Darius] has always been a great player,” Sullivan said. “He has a great attitude, he’s a leader out there, and I think he’s going to have a really great season.”

Tackle Ryan Harris is impressed by Walker’s increase in maturity from 2004 to now.

“[He] has done an exceptional job, stepping into the leadership role with the running backs,” Harris said. “He talks to the line now. Last year he didn’t talk to us a whole bunch. He lets us know he loves us, and you know he wants us to pave the way for him.”

Much is being made over the matchup between Weis and Wannstedt – two former NFL coaches with expert billing on offense and defense, respectively. But Walker says the players aren’t concerned with what attention might be given to the men in charge. They’re just excited to hit someone not wearing a Notre Dame helmet.

“We’re all kind of antsy right now,” Walker said. “We’re kind of tired of playing against ourselves … We just want to go out there and do our best and go down there and whoop Pittsburgh.”