Thursday, February 01, 2007

Can he kick it? | by Pat

The Class of 2007 added its 20th member as Ohio kicker Brandon Walker joined Brian Smith on Tuesday in committing to the Fighting Irish. Like Smith, Walker had been committed to another school, in this case Louisville, only to change his mind and wind up giving a pledge to Notre Dame. Unlike Smith, Walker's switch came about after the head coach of his original school, Bobby Petrino, left Louisville to take over the Atlanta Falcons head job.

"I wasn't sure if my scholarship would be good or not," Walker said. "So I stared contacting schools that had offered me before."

At the top of that list was Pitt and Michigan State. Then came a call Walker wasn't expecting.

"It was right out of the blue," Walker said. "I was leaving the house one day and I got the call. They wanted some film on me and my mom said, 'Are you sure it's Notre Dame?'

"It turned out to be the best offer yet, and not just for football. Academically, it's one of the best schools in the nation for what I want to get into."
A few days after Walker sent his film to ND, the Irish offered and invited Walker up to campus this past weekend for an official visit. Upon returning, Walker made the decision on Tuesday night to accept the Notre Dame offer.

Irish fans might be wondering how the Irish decided to offer a kicker a scholarship when they just offered one last year. Does it mean the coaches lack faith in Ryan Burkhart? If ND needed a kicker, why wait until mid-January? Will Notre Dame ever be able to kick the ball into the endzone on kickoffs?

It seems to me that the somewhat unexpected decision by Carl Gioia to not seek a 5th year of eligibility combined with the sudden decommitment of Walker and the fact that ND has a few extra scholarships this year led to the last minute kicker recruitment. It also doesn't hurt that Walker is versatile enough to switch to punter if kicking doesn't work out.
"They put a kicker on scholarship last year. He's going to be a sophomore but I guess he didn't make the adjustments they felt he needed to make," Walker said.

"They said the competition for field goals and kickoffs is open. Their punter will be a fifth-year senior who's actually near the top of the Ray Guy (Award) list right now.

"I've kicked since fifth grade and I feel more comfortable kicking field goals. But I'll do whatever gets me on the field."

Ranked as the #16 kicker by Rivals and the #6 punter by Scout, it seems that opinions are mixed on just what Walker will wind up doing in college. The above quote does make it sound like the coaching staff is a bit worried about Ryan Burkhart, but let's not forget that many had written off Geoff Price at punter until his breakthrough season last year. You never know when a boost in confidence or tweak in technique turns an inconsistent kicker into a dependable weapon.

Walker's chances at kicker will likely come down to the performance of Burkhart this spring. If he has a solid set of practices and earns the trust of the coaching staff, then Walker might find himself on the fast track to becoming Price's heir apparent at punter. If not, then the 2nd Team All-State kicker will likely be right in the mix for the starting kicker job and Irish fans will be able to enjoy another pre-season of uncertainty at kicker.