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2016 Russell Athletic Bowl Player Profile: RB Mark Walton

Lets take a look back at the career that has unfolded for Walton so far at Miami

NCAA Football: Duke at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

High School Career (Graduated in 2015)

Walton was a consensus four-star recruit. Like many of the recruits Miami goes after year in and out, Walton was a local product out of Booker T Washington High School. For his high school career Walton finished with over 2,000 yards rushing. Most of his yards came during his senior year when he amassed 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns. Walton was known for his shiftiness out of the backfield and creativity in the open field whether it be catching the ball in the flat or toting the rock after a handoff. Most of the big name schools were after him; those highest on his list were: South Carolina, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia (Richt really liked his skill set) and Tennessee.

Freshman Season (2015-2016)

As soon as Walton arrived on campus in Coral Gables he started seeing practice time with the first and second string offense. Heading into the fall of 2015 he was viewed as a change of pace back to the entrenched starter, Joe Yearby. The 2015 season for Walton was really bizarre in a way. His rushing yards per carry were pretty disappointing overall at a miniscule 3.5 per touch but he was able to score a very “vulture-ific” 9 touchdowns. For the season he finished with 461 yards rushing on the ground to go along with 293 yards receiving out of the backfield. The thing that stands out to me when I look back at 2015 for Walton was his sheer bad luck with penalties on his runs. I remember him weaving his way to big gains and even scoring three or four more touchdowns but they were negated due to holding calls or illegal chop blocks on the offensive line. Not a bad start as a Cane though.

Sophomore Season (2016-Present)

The Canes backfield this season has seemed to be a “last man standing” type of situation. Not due to injuries but rather the coaching staff riding the hot hand on a week to week basis. Walton has been the starter all season and looks to retain his position heading into the bowl game but Gus Edwards and Joe Yearby have both been time sharing with him in the backfield. For the first seven games or so it was the “Walton and Yearby” show as they both split the carries roughly 50-50. The last few games though we’ve seen Yearby almost completely phased out of the running game and he’s been replaced by Gus Edwards. Similar to last year, Gus Edwards is a bigger body back and can be viewed as a change of pace back to spell Walton (Edwards doesn’t run with a bruising style but I digress).

Even though there seemed to be musical chairs for the backup role, Walton stayed the starter all 2016 and shared the load with whoever spelled him. For the season, Walton has churned out 1,065 yards on the ground, 14 rushing touchdowns, 242 receiving yards and one more receiving touchdown. Another note I’d like to point out as well is that it seems the last month or so Walton has taken on a leadership role come gameday. He’s a little energy bug and many times after big plays by the offense I’ve seen him jumping around and celebrating with his teammates trying to get them as inspired as he’s feeling in the moment.

Looking Ahead

Walton is a really interesting player. His stature may limit him at the next level (roughly 5’9’’ 205) but he’s really fast and has exceptional change of direction in small spaces. He’s not as thick as Darren Sproles but I could see Walton carving out a niche at the next level similar to the special teams and pass catching ace.

Heading into next season though, Walton will probably again be the lead back but see a good sized portion of his carries being siphoned off to the hot hands that will back him up. His numbers have trended up over his last two years but I don’t see him really exponentially increasing his numbers any higher in 2017. This will be due to the coaching staff sharing the load in the backfield, not due to his shortcomings. I see a potential 1,100-1,200-yard type season as the top end if I had to guess.

What do you think? Is my breakdown of Walton off? Let’s discuss in the comments section!