WVU football: Rivers key reason Walters made the transition to football
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Should football work out for safety Sean Walters as well as West Virginia's coaches hope and Walters expects, then the Mountaineers will have a most unusual source for their satisfaction.
Strange that the shooting guard son of Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, a freshman this past season for the Duke Blue Devils and expected to be first-round pick in the NBA Draft on June 28, could shape the future?
Not at all once you consider the strange story Walters has thus far written. In short form, he shouldn't be where he is today.
"I've had a lot of things happen to me, but everything that has happened, I'm just trying to use it to prove myself and to prove to my family that I'm pushing for them," said Walters, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound true freshman from Hallandale Beach, Fla.
The tale began in Hallandale Beach, where Walters grew up and played football and basketball through middle school. For his freshman year, though, he transferred from Hallandale High to Boyd Anderson High, in Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., where he would focus solely on basketball.
"All the way through Pop Warner and all that, I'd see myself getting taller and I thought I'd be 6-4, 6-5, just because I was getting tall and I was taller than everybody," he said. "I just thought basketball was the way to go."
For a time, it was, and he started his freshman and sophomore years and in that second year he helped the team reach the Class 6A state semifinals.
Boyd Anderson lost to Winter Park and 23 points from its star player.
"I saw Austin Rivers and how he had everything and just the way he played," Walters said.
"I remember it like it was yesterday. I said to myself I didn't want to play basketball anymore. I thought I'd have a much better opportunity playing football."
Rivers was a year older and already on his way to being the top-ranked recruit in his class, one wanted by everybody, even if it was just for one season at the college level.
Walters had time on his side, so he headed back to Hallandale Beach, where his older brother, Jermaine, had played well enough to get a Division I scholarship to Colorado State.
Hallandale's coach, Dameon Jones, found Walters in school late in his sophomore year.
"If you come out to the football team, I promise you a scholarship," Jones said. "With your size and your ability, you'll get a scholarship."
Walters bit and found himself in the defensive backfield for the team's spring game against West Broward.
Early in the first half, the opposition's running back headed for one side and saw resistance. He reversed course and headed the other way, but never saw Walters.
"I just smacked him," he said. "I almost dislocated his shoulder."
He was no longer Sean Walters, a basketball player turned football player. He was no longer a project or a prospect. He was known from that moment forward as The Hitman.
"It's been like that ever since," he said.
It has, though not been without interruption. The spring game was called at halftime and Walters, who had made nine tackles, rolled his momentum through the summer and found out some colleges were interested.
Hallandale was in a kickoff classic to start the following season and Walters was again making plays to begin the all-important junior season. Someone rolled up on his leg in the first half and Walters was lost for the rest of the year with a fracture.
"At one point there, I did have some doubts about my decision," Walters said, noting players don't often roll up on your leg on the basketball court. "But the type of person I am, I never quit. I never gave up because, with certain things, if I want it, I go for it."
By the time his senior season started, Walters was back to himself, though with one noticeable change.
He was mad. South Florida had been the only school to express interest in Walters during his junior year, but the Bulls backed off and no one else was lining up to make his dreams come true.
Walters then decided he'd become a nightmare on the field.
"I had a lot of anger because I knew I was supposed to be that type of five-star player, but no one recognized it," he said.
"I was the underdog and I didn't like that because since that leg injury everyone passed up on me. That drove me more than ever before."
As the weeks progressed, Walters notice the attention increased. Phone calls, letters and finally offers.
WVU and running backs coach Robert Gillespie were there after the fifth game. Indiana and Minnesota appeared and South Florida returned.
Walters committed to WVU in December and enrolled in January. He improved and eventually impressed throughout spring football and was praised for the way he adjusted and matured. He added about 25 pounds and learned to play the "star" position while Terence Garvin missed the spring recovering from knee surgery.
Walters played on the hash in the defensive backfield in high school and flew to the ball to make plays.
WVU saw that and decided to move him to the hybrid safety/linebacker position closer to the line of scrimmage.
It's a mental adjustment, but the only one Walters says he'll make.
"I'm still (ticked) off because I really believe I should be that guy up there in the rankings as far as being the next Sean Taylor-type player and I'll keep going until I get there," he said. "I think I can still be the same kind of player all four years here and I'll keep driving and keep going until the day I don't want to play football anymore."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.