After an injury last season, FSU receiver Javon Walker is looking for a breakout season.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 12, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- As he streaked down the right sideline, Florida State senior receiver Javon Walker glanced over his shoulder and realized the long pass to open Saturday's game was underthrown.
He had to pull up. Now.
Then in one fluid motion, Walker leapt and contorted his body sharply to the left.
"Everybody can make the easy catch, but it adds more to the game if you go up and make a good grab, make the tough catch," he said.
It was a 46-yard gain, setting up a field goal and setting the tone for the 29-7 victory against Alabama-Birmingham.
"For me, making a big catch on the first play of the game set a good pace for me to go out thinking, "It doesn't matter who's on me or what ball's thrown, I can go get it,' " said Walker, who finished with three catches for 104 yards, the second-best performance of his career. "It was a real big boost for me."
The Seminoles can only hope it sets the tone for the season, beginning with Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown against No. 10 Georgia Tech.
"That first one was so big for him," senior receiver Atrews Bell said. "He finally made that play. He said, "Bell, I want to get back out there and make another play.' They kept calling plays for him and he made them."
Walker, 6 feet 3 and 190 pounds, grew up playing football and couldn't wait to join his first organized team. In fact, he confesses he lied about his age so he could play for his sixth-grade team.
He was in the fifth.
"I went out there and the bad thing about it was I was doing well," he said. "I was a little running back and I was running all over the field. The first day of school came and the coach said, "You can't play anymore because you're in the fifth grade.' They were disappointed because they could have used me. I asked if I could do something and they let me be the manager."
It didn't take long for Walker to stand out at St. Thomas More (Lafayette, La.). He received All-America honors in football and track. And even though he played baseball only as a senior, he was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 12th round.
He decided to give baseball a chance, spending one full year and two summers while attending Jones (Miss.) Junior College as a rightfielder in the minor leagues. He reached as high as Double A but missed football.
So, he left baseball.
Walker, a junior college All-American as a sophomore in 1999, came to FSU with the credentials and the ability to perhaps fill the void of Peter Warrick. He had seven catches for 70 yards and one touchdown in last season's opener against Brigham Young, then had a 63-yard touchdown catch against Georgia Tech in Week 2.
That play was a high and a low. A Tech defender fell on Walker's right ankle as he made the catch and he suffered a high and low sprain. He limped the final few yards into the end zone.
The injury affected him for the rest of the year. He finished with 20 catches for 313 yards and three touchdowns. Worse still, he had a couple of key drops against Florida and in the Orange Bowl loss to Oklahoma, a game that FSU needed him to be at his best because of the academic dismissal of All-American Marvin "Snoop" Minnis.
"I expected a lot more," coach Bobby Bowden said, adding he told Walker to "catch the ball; quit dropping it. I know he worried about it all summer, which is good. I want him worrying about it."
Walker, 22, was elevated to a more prominent role when senior Robert Morgan and junior Anquan Boldin suffered season-ending knee injuries in mid August. He had five catches for 62 yards in the opener against Duke. He also had a drop.
"I was saying, "My Lord. We're going to have to rely on freshmen to get catches out there,' " Bowden said.
No one is fearing that now.
"He's definitely stepping up his level and becoming one of the main leaders of the receiving corps," redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Rix said. "I'm going to continue to put the ball up there for him."
"I know I can catch the ball," Walker said. "I was always anxious to make a play before I caught it. Now, I'm focusing on just catching the ball, and like Coach Bowden says, let the ability take over after that."