Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Deion Walker taking chance at UMass in full stride

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

For Deion Walker, adjusting to life at the University of Massachusetts hasn’t exactly been the easiest transition.

After spending four years at Notre Dame, Walker chose to take his talents east to Amherst this season, where living out the final stage of his college career as a football player hasn’t gone quite like he planned it to. But, in reality, the hardest part of the transition to life at UMass hasn’t even taken place on the football field for the wide receiver.

“I’d say the biggest, hardest thing for me is probably going from undergrad to graduate school,” said Walker, who is working towards a graduate degree in education at UMass after earning a bachelor’s in business management and consulting at Notre Dame. “(Graduate) classes take up a lot more time than I thought they ever would. Even though I’m only taking three credits as opposed to six, I’m still in there doing a lot of homework and stuff.

“I’m doing education here, so I went from doing a lot of numbers and group projects to a lot of papers and reading and stuff like that, so it’s pretty tough.”

When he’s not inside studying, Walker is out on the football field, which is mainly the reason he’s here. After four seasons at Notre Dame, where he didn’t get much playing time, Walker had one more year of eligibility and chose to follow his offensive coordinator, Charley Molnar, who became the head coach of the Minutemen, to Amherst, with the hopes that he would get that elusive playing time he’d been searching for.

It seemed conceivable that he would. Walker was a four-star recruit, according to, out of Christchurch School in Christchurch, Va., where he was a standout in high school. He was ranked the 25th best wide receiver in his class by Rivals and 179th overall. He took official visits to Penn State and Florida State, and had scholarship offers from schools such as Southern California, Tennessee and California.

Standing tall at 6-foot-3 with an athletic frame, the talent has always been there, but that didn’t exactly mean he would be handed a starting role on a depleted UMass receiving corps without earning it.

That was the harsh reality that hit Walker in the season-opener against Connecticut, where he didn’t even get on the field.

It wasn’t as if he was slow learning the offensive system. In fact, it’s the exact same one that Molnar implemented at Notre Dame, so there’s never been a problem there for Walker. But he didn’t arrive to Amherst until the summer, and conditioning-wise, he was behind his teammates – who had been training and preparing since the spring.

“I think he thought it was going to be handed to him and he was going to step out on the field and be so great,” Molnar said. “And I think when he got out here and saw there are some other pretty darn good football players here, he would have to work hard every day and compete for it.

“He didn’t come into camp in very good shape. He really didn’t do any work since December of last year, and it really started to show early in camp and he couldn’t go the way we go, go, go, go, go during practice.”

Walker said it was frustrating to not  get into the first game of the season, but he understood the circumstances and used it as a wakeup call to get better.

In the second game, the home-opener against Indiana, Walker finally saw his first action. The numbers weren’t outstanding, but an impressive 24-yard catch along the sidelines in the third quarter gave him the confidence he needed.

“I took a deep breath after that and realized that I definitely had the potential to do something, so that made me excited,” Walker said.

“I think after that (catch) the light finally turned on for him,” Molnar said.

It certainly seemed to do so. Since the Indiana game, Walker’s production and playing time has increased week-by-week. At Michigan, he caught four passes for 63 yards before turning in his best game last week at Miami (Ohio), hauling in a team-high six receptions for 81 yards.

“He’s really become, really on the field, our most dependable wide receiver as far as just catching the ball,” Molnar said. “He’s done a really good job catching it and tucking it away.

“Now, I think (quarterback) Mike (Wegzyn) has a lot more confidence in Deion. I think all the coaches do. I’ve always felt good about Deion because I know who he is and I’ve watched him the last couple years, but I think the other coaches now also feel a lot better about Deion.”

On the field as well as off, Walker has also been an invaluable resource to his teammates from an experience standpoint. He knows the ins and outs of the offense like it’s the back of his hand, which he can shed light on to his teammates, and coming from such a storied football program such as Notre Dame, Walker knows what it takes to be successful on Saturdays.

But even he admits he’s been careful in taking a leadership role since he’s so new to UMass.

“I definitely tried to come in and show everything I know,” Walker said. “But from a leadership standpoint, I tried to not step on too many toes, like there are some natural leaders here. Some guys that have been through the battles and trenches, and they’re pretty much the natural leaders, but I tried to come in and try to be that extra spark.”

His teammates don’t seem to mind his company.

“It’s fun with Deion,” said Wegzyn, who is one of Walker’s roommates in the apartment they share together. “He’s a guy that you like to throw a jump ball to. Obviously with his age, he’s got a lot of experience on the field, so he knows the ins and outs of all the spots at receiver. … He’s definitely been a leader.”

While Walker is focused on the task at hand for the time being and getting better each week, he also has an eye toward the future. He said he hasn’t ruled out trying to go pro. He’s doing whatever he can now to not only help UMass win games, but perhaps get noticed and carve out a future playing football.

“I want to put myself in the best situation and at the end of the season, I want to look back on it and say, ‘Alright, do I have an opportunity to go to the next level? And if not, did I do whatever I could to get myself there?’” Walker said.

“I don’t have my mind set on any one thing just yet, but if I have the opportunity, I’m going to definitely jump on it.”

Stephen Hewitt can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @steve_hewitt.

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