O.K., let's get this out of the way up front: Troy Walters,
Stanford's star wideout, is short. Very short. "Troy Walters
looks more like a jockey than he does a football player," says
NFL draft guru Joel Buschbaum. Walters is listed by the Cardinal
as standing 5'8", which has to be the most creative computation
this side of Denny McLain's tax returns, because Walters is only
Everything else about Walters is supersized. Start with his
stats. This fall Walters has set just about every significant
receiving record in the pass-happy Pac-10, including the marks
for career yardage (3,677 and counting) and career catches
(230). In the season's fourth week he went for a single-game
school-record 278 yards (including a Pac-10-record 98-yard
touchdown reception) in a 42-32 trouncing of UCLA.
Walters has also come up large in the classroom. Twice an
Academic All-Pac-10 selection, he has already earned a bachelor
of arts degree in communications and now, as a fifth-year
senior, is at work on a master's in sociology. Yet Walters's
biggest asset may be his character. He leads a weekly Bible
study with some of his teammates, has counseled inmates at San
Quentin and is such an inspirational leader that, his coaches
say, his example in practice, as much as his play in games, has
helped propel Stanford to the cusp of a Rose Bowl invitation.
"Troy is the epitome of what the student-athlete is all about,"
says Cardinal coach Tyrone Willingham. "He's not just the kind
of person you would want as a player, he's also the kind of
person you would want as a son."
Despite that sort of unqualified praise, Walters has no trouble
remaining grounded. "What keeps me humble is remembering where
I've come from," he says. That would be A&M Consolidated High in
College Station, Texas, where he had an outstanding career. Yet
only Sam Houston State and Tulsa had him in for a recruiting
visit, and neither offered him a scholarship. Walters might
never have played big-time college football if not for a family
connection and a twist of fate.
November 22, 1999
During Troy's senior season in high school, in 1994, his father,
Trent, was the linebackers' coach for the Minnesota Vikings and
lived in the Twin Cities while his family remained in Texas. The
Vikings' running backs' coach was Willingham. Troy had grown up
as a coach's son, bonding with his father through
football--watching tape, drawing up plays with pennies. He sent
his dad a tape following each of his high school games, and as
Willingham was being courted by Stanford in the fall of '94,
these tapes "began mysteriously appearing on my desk," says
Willingham. He liked what he saw and, after being hired by the
Cardinal in December '94, offered Troy a scholarship.
Size is always an issue with the NFL. Are the league's general
managers so small-minded that they won't even give a chance to a
player with 4.39 speed, Velcro hands and the ability to run
routes sharp enough to give a defensive back a paper cut? "If
Troy were six feet, he probably would be a first-rounder," says
Trent, all of 5'9" himself. Troy doesn't let his mind wander
like that, but he does know that he belongs at the next level,
in part because he spent the summer of 1994 as a paid gofer
during the Vikings' camp. While there, he often got to serve as
a practice receiver to help work out Minnesota's quarterbacks.
"They were throwing fastballs, but I hung on O.K.," he says. Not
that his summer job was all that glamorous; he also had
equipment duties. "I had to pick up used jocks, man," he says.
That seems to be the only dirty laundry in the life of Troy
Walters, who, regardless of his height, is exactly what a college
football player should be like.