Oct. 18, 2001
By TOM COYNE
Associated Press Writer
Soccer players switching to football to become kickers is not unusual. Shane Walton, the leading scorer on Notre Dame’s soccer team as a freshman three years ago, made a different kind of change.
He’s not a kicker. He’s Notre Dame’s best cornerback.
“Shane Walton is an unbelievable kid,” coach Bob Davie said.
Walton, who attended Bishop’s School in San Diego, originally wanted to play football at Southern Cal.
Walton said he was recruited by John Robinson’s staff, but when Paul Hackett was named coach, Walton didn’t hear from USC again. So when Notre Dame offered a soccer scholarship, he accepted.
He started in all but one game and scored 10 goals, becoming the first freshman in six years to lead the Irish in scoring. He earned All-Big East rookie honors and was a second-team All-Big East selection.
Watching the Irish football team, though, made him wonder about his football abilities.
“I wanted to know for myself if I could do it or not,” he said.
In 1998, he approached Davie, who was leery at first. But Davie said Walton could try spring football.
“I didn’t want to say, ‘OK, come out and play football and give up soccer,”‘ Davie said. “I said, ‘Look, come out for football and see if you are a good enough football player. Don’t just give up soccer.”‘
Even after spring football, Davie was hesitant.
“I said, ‘I think you have some potential in football. To say you are going to be a better football player, that it’s worth giving up soccer, I can’t tell you that. I can’t make the decision for you because you haven’t just jumped out here and set the world on fire.”‘
Walton said the decision was easy.
“My heart was telling me to play football,” he said.
Walton said making the switch was humbling.
“I went from being the man on the soccer field to nothing on the football field,” he said.
He played mostly on special teams in 1999 and didn’t make a tackle. He started the first game of his junior year against Texas A&M, however, and his role became increasingly important.
He led the Irish in playing time against Nebraska last season, making seven tackles and intercepting a pass. Against Purdue, he intercepted a pass off Drew Brees and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. He broke his arm against Rutgers, however, and missed the USC game last year.
“That was hard because that was going to be the first time I played in front of all my family and friends,” he said.
When Brock Williams decided to leave Notre Dame after last season for the NFL, Walton’s role became even more important. Walton’s been called on frequently to play opposing teams’ best receivers. This week, he’ll likely find himself against USC’s Kareem Kelly, who has 28 catches, averaging 18.7 yards. Walton said he enjoys the challenge.
“I’m a competitor. I don’t want to win easy. I don’t want it to come easy to me,” he said. “I like a challenge.”
Davie said Walton, who can come back for another year, has been one of the bright spots for the Irish. He’s made 16 tackles so far this season, had an interception and forced a fumble against Pittsburgh and blocked a punt against Nebraska that led to Notre Dame’s only touchdown against the Cornhuskers.