An aspiring performance arts major, Darius Walker was a can't-miss act in the talent show at Buford High in Lawrenceville, Ga., whether singing, dancing or playing the saxophone. "He loves the stage," says his mother, LaVerne. Now a freshman running back at Notre Dame, Walker stole the show in a different arena last Saturday. After entering the game late in the first quarter, Walker made the most of his first collegiate action, rushing 31 times for 115 yards and scoring consecutive fourth-quarter touchdowns to propel the Irish to a shocking 28--20 defeat of No. 8 Michigan.
Walker didn't play in Notre Dame's season-opening 20--17 loss to BYU, in which the offense sputtered with just 11 rushing yards. That feeble output touched off new criticism from Irish fans of third-year coach Tyrone Willingham, who had lost 10 of his last 15 games. Many wondered how Willingham's West Coast offense could be so inept. On Saturday, Notre Dame didn't start out much better, producing no first downs and 12 rushing yards in the first quarter.
Enter Walker, who at Buford led his team to three straight state titles, rushed for 5,675 career yards and broke Herschel Walker's single-season state record with 46 rushing touchdowns as a senior. Routinely eluding tackles and breaking to the outside, the speedy 5'11", 200-pound Walker gave the Irish offense new life and opened up the passing game for sophomore quarterback Brady Quinn. Early in the fourth quarter Walker took a handoff and ran untouched around right end to put Notre Dame ahead 14--12. Following a blocked punt on the ensuing series, Walker sprinted five yards to the left corner for another score to increase the Irish's advantage to 21--12. "It was a great day for our offense," says Notre Dame center John Sullivan. "Now we know we have a number of playmakers."
Walker's emergence as one of them came a week later than he would have liked. "I know he was a little disappointed he didn't get to play last week," said his father, Jimmy, a former All-America defensive tackle at Arkansas, where he played for Lou Holtz. "He saw so many freshmen around the country playing last week, he wanted his opportunity."
Walker made the most of it on Saturday, becoming an instant part of Notre Dame lore. Surrounded by cameramen and reporters after the game, the consummate showman seemed at home. "This is cool," he said. "All eyes are on me."