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Portsmouth's Walker Biding Time with UNH
DURHAM — It was only a mere two years ago that Rod Walker stepped on the football field for his final year at Portsmouth High School and had a season that no one will soon forget. With more than 1,200 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns, Walker helped lead Portsmouth to the Division III championship game.
It was then that the University of New Hampshire football team began to inquire about the Clippers running back.
Two years later, Walker stands on his new home turf field at Cowell Stadium as a redshirt freshman, eager to continue where he left off. To protect his four years of eligibility at UNH, Walker opted to just practice with the team last season to build himself up for this year.
“The next level up is a completely different game,” Walker said. “It’s a lot faster. I’m still getting used to college football and everything that comes with it.”
Last year, UNH went 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association and had a 7-5 record overall. The Wildcats will open the 2008 at Army on Sept. 6.
Walker has spent the summer in Durham prepping himself both physically and mentally for this year’s football season. While he played as both running back and defensive back at Portsmouth, UNH has kept him focused on defense. In between the weight training and running, Walker has also formed a companionship with his other teammates that has helped ease his transition onto the team.
“I’m looking forward to traveling with the team since I didn’t get to last year,” he said. “This offseason I was along with 60 other guys up here and it’s different. It was a good bonding experience with the team and we got a lot of work done.”
While now officially on the team’s roster, Walker still faces obstacles that may keep him from the field on game day. With seven defensive starters returning to the team and a multitude of players vying for those other four positions, Walker has his work cut out for him.
Senior defensive back John Clements said it will be tough for Walker, but believes he has a shot at starting during the season.
“He’s got a lot of potential and he’s very athletic,” Clements said. “I think he will be competing for his position. He has some good people in front of him right now, but he’ll put up a good fight. If I know Rod, he’ll put up a very good fight.”
While Walker was used to playing every game for Portsmouth and putting up jaw-dropping numbers, he could start his playing career at UNH on special teams. According to defensive backs coach Alex Grinch, that’s how many players begin their college careers.
“A lot of time for young guys in our program, the key for them is special teams,” Grinch said. “It’s for those guys to earn the trust of the coaches and get their feet wet a little bit. Special teams is (Walker’s) route right now to find his way on the field.”
Grinch said that putting Walker on special teams won’t keep him from striving for more playing time as the year goes on.
“The depth chart is completely wide open,” Grinch said. “We are trying to find the best 11 on defense and the best 11 on offense, so if (Walker) finds himself there, he will absolutely start. There is no preconceived notion on where guys will end up as we go through things.”
No matter where he ends up playing, Walker cannot wait to step onto the field for his first game, where he can put what he has practiced to good use. In regards to what people can expect from him this year, he said he can only hope it’s good.
“I can’t really say,” he smirked. “I mean, they are welcome to watch and find out, but I’m not even sure what that is yet.”
UNH coach Sean McDonnell has his hopes for Walker, but believes that there are some things to work on before he reaches his full potential. This past spring, McDonnell moved Walker to strong safety to see if he could “smack somebody,” and Walker did not disappoint.
“Roddy stayed here this summer and worked very, very hard on what he was doing,” McDonnell said. “He’s in great shape, but it only goes to how far he wants it to go. If he works hard, there’s not a question about it.
“It’s a big difference from Portsmouth High School, but football’s football,” McDonnell added. “The one thing about Rod is he’s trying to be like a sponge and soak this all up. Now he’s got to figure out how to put it all into place.”
Grinch also promised that Walker’s sense of competitiveness will be a big plus over the next couple of years.
“I think he has high expectations of himself and certainly has the athletic ability,” Grinch said. “Because of his competitiveness, he’s going to produce here at UNH sooner rather than later.”
Portsmouth’s Walker biding time with Wildcats
By Biz Jacobs, The Portsmouth Herald (MA)