September 13, 2007

Walters Attempts To Become Force On Offensive Unit

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It is not often that a special teams player makes a significant impact on a football team’s season. Except for perhaps the spectacular 2006 season of Chicago Bears return man Devin Hester, return men are often overlooked and underappreciated football players. Yet sophomore wide receiver, return man and special teams player extraordinaire Bryan Walters was a big reason why the Red recovered from a 1-3 start to the 2006 season to finish with a 5-5 (3-4 Ivy) record.
Despite catching only three balls for 33 yards over the course of his freshman campaign, Walters made his presence known early and often returning both kicks and punts for Cornell. Over the course of the season, he asserted himself as arguably the top special teams player in the Ancient Eight.
The Bothell, Wash. native was a two-time Ivy League weekly honoree in 2006, and earned the Red’s Jeff Stenstrom Award as the player who contributes the most to the performance of the special teams. Walters returned 27 punts over the course of the regular season for a total of 274 yards, ranking him 27th nationally (10.1 yards per return). The 274 yards also broke a 58-year-old school season record.
“I didn’t even know about that record until after the Penn game,” he said. “It definitely means something to me, I mean its pretty cool to be in the record books. But it also gives me something to shoot for so I can keep improving.”
On kick returns Walters was equally as dynamic. In all, he returned 22 kicks for 540 yards, ranking him 14th nationally with 24.5 yards per return. The highlight of his return career, however, came in the Red’s last game against Ivy League rival Penn.
After Penn knotted the game up at 21-21 with 8:41 left in the fourth quarter, Walters fielded a kick at the 12 yard-line and returned it 88 yards to the end zone to put the Red — who would eventually win 28-27 — up for good. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown since Justin Bush’s 87-yard score against Harvard in 1998 and ended Cornell’s comeback season on a high note.
“That moment was definitely up there in terms of the greatest in my life,” he said. “I can still close my eyes and picture the entire return play out.”
Overall, Walters’ 105.9 all-purpose yards per game was good for 58th nationally and fourth in the Ivy League.
“My role is really to make big plays,” he said. “But also to hold onto the football and to make sure the offense gets a chance to get on the field.”
But this year, in addition to his return duties, he has set out to make a significant impact on offense as a wide receiver.
“I am trying to have a have a much bigger role on offense this year,” he said. “As an outside receiver in this new offense, I think I will have a chance to make plays beyond special teams. The new offense is really great, it feels a lot more in control than last year and there are so many options for [junior quarterback] Nate [Ford].”