While his play as a sophomore starter deserved recognition, Walton’s freshman year was a different story.
“I went through a lot of adverse situations, I had big problems in pass protection and run [blocking] and just buckling down and working day-by-day – and having great leadership like last season now I know where to go.” Walton said.
As a freshman Walton struggled adapting to the speed of Division I pass rushers, relegating him to the scout team for much of the season. One habit that often plagues young offensive linemen is that they break technique as they turn their hips when they begin to pass protect – causing them to start chasing after their defender. Walton was no different.
An effective kick slide, the first move the tackle makes when the ball is snapped on a passing play, keeps the offensive tackle square to the line of scrimmage, waiting on a pass rusher to approach them before they strike. That patience is extremely difficult to learn; most young players jump out of their stance and attack the pass rusher immediately, playing right into the hands of the defender who can then pull the lineman’s momentum forward and easily make their way to the quarterback.
“That was one of my problems coming in – I always panicked and started doing crazy stuff with my footwork.” Walton said.
Pass protection is like a chess match, if one player panics and breaks strategy, the match – or play – is lost. Well-executed footwork from an offensive lineman can negate quicker defensive linemen, but offensive tackles still worry they are not as fast as the pass rushers opposite them.
Trusting their footwork more of a mental challenge than a physical one for offensive linemen.
Walton worked tirelessly to develop that patience and became a dominant pass protector.
He overcame freshman mistakes to win a starting position as a sophomore last season. It was far from an easy task though, as he won the job in the final stages of fall camp. At one point FAU coaches considered Walton for one of the starting guard positions before ultimately deciding that, at 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, his length better suited him to tackle.
The arduous process of changing his entire mental makeup in pass protection molded Walton into the player he is today.
“I can go through anything if I can go through that.” Walton said.
Playing on a 2017 FAU offensive line that featured three first-team All-Conference selections, Walton failed to receive the same recognition as his counterparts – even though his play was worthy of the praise.
FAU coach Lane Kiffin said Walton graded as high as his All-Conference teammates at times last season.
“He played as well as anyone upfront last year even though he was kind of the least talked about guy.” Kiffin said.
Walton took that starting opportunity and excelled, his patience in pass protection keeping Jason Driskel’s jersey clean all season.
Despite now being an obvious starter, Walton still plays with the same chip on his shoulder that he had when he was just another body on the scout team. Walton’s journey makes him prepare everyday like someone is coming to take his job.
“I thrive best when there is more competition.” Walton said.
Nobody had a better view of the FAU offensive line than the nation’s 2017 rushing touchdown leader Devin Singletary, and it is safe to say the dynamic running back was more than pleased with the progression of his “nasty” right tackle.
“Never going to leave me hanging, [Walton] is going to give you everything he got and then some.” Singletary said.