Deion Walker caught his one and only pass at Notre Dame back in 2009. Now he’s hoping to make up for an entire career in one season at FBS startup Massachusetts next fall.
The 6-foot-3, 206-pounder from Christchurch, Va., was not invited back for a fifth season in South Bend and signed a letter of intent Thursday to play for former Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, who took the head coaching position at UMass in December. Walker joins a Minutemen roster that also includes former ND nose guard Hafis Williams.
Like Walker, who played behind prolific receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, Williams’ opportunities were few and far between on a depth chart that featured former stalwart Ian Williams and rising star Louis Nix III. Hafis Williams played in just five games last year as a senior and finished the season with eight tackles.
Walker was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and chose the Irish over programs such as Clemson USC, Penn State and Florida State. He never thought he’d end up signing a second letter of intent.
“Not at all. Who ever thought that would happen?” he told BlueandGold.com late Thursday evening. “It’s really exciting just getting the opportunity to make something of myself. I had such high hopes coming out of high school, and not being able to execute on those plans was kind of a setback.
“It goes like that sometimes. You can’t win them all. But big picture, I graduated, I had a blast over the last four years and hopefully I can go on to make something of myself in the realm of football. Looking back, it was definitely tough, but I can’t be that mad about it.”
Walker felt as if he was making headway and gaining trust under former head coach Charlie Weis. Relationships with his teammates also kept him from seeking a transfer earlier in his career. He has no hard feelings towards third-year head coach Brian Kelly, but Walker said the regime change didn’t work in his favor.
“I could have transfered somewhere and go break records at other places, but I was three years into my tenure at Notre Dame,” Walker explained. “Why did you come here? I came here to win a national championship and get a degree. I was halfway there. I could transfer and miss out on the opportunities with the people I grew close with, but I figured I would try to make the most of it while I could and earn a spot on the field. It didn’t happen the way I planned it, but now I have one more year to make something of myself, which I’m excited about.
“I’m not saying it was better or worse for Notre Dame, but in my eyes I felt as if that hurt me more than anything. That’s just my opinion. I felt that hurt me because I felt I was on the right track and earning trust. Circumstances are circumstances. I’m a victim of circumstances, I guess. I can’t change it. But I had a blast, so it’s all right.”
Originally set on Division I-AA Northern Iowa, Walker was contacted by Williams about choosing UMass. Once an official release was sent out from the ND compliance office, Molnar reached out and expressed interest in bringing Walker into the fold.
“I’ve waited four years for it. I’m very excited,” Walker added. “I know the offense from almost every position. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. It definitely helped that [Charley Molnar] is there. I thought about going to Northern Iowa because they’re changing up their offense a little bit. When Coach Molnar called me and we talked about where he sees me in the offense, it was definitely the best fit.
“And I had someone else from Notre Dame going there with me, which makes it even better. [Hafis Williams] decided before me because I had pretty much going to Northern Iowa. He was like, ‘You should check it out; they’re asking about you.’”
Walker said that even if Notre Dame would have encouraged him to apply for a fifth season it wouldn’t have been advantageous.
“If I were to have stayed, I wouldn’t have wanted to come off the field at all,” he said. “For me to achieve my goal, I would have to not come off the field at all. I would have had to play every single down, do special teams, I might have to punt — everything. It’s disappointing to walk away from your friends. But the best-case scenario for me was leaving and to showcase my talents all the time and not leave the field at all.”
Along with Walker and Williams, four other former Irish players are finishing their careers elsewhere. Quarterback Dayne Crist, linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone will all wrap up their college eligibility with Weis at Kansas in 2012. Defensive lineman Brandon Newman will play for Ball State next year.
Walker and Williams begin summer classes next week. Molnar, per NCAA rules, isn’t allowed to comment until the two are enrolled.