Earlier this spring, University of Miami football coach Mark Richt called starting tailback Mark Walton “a machine.’’
And Walton, who ran for 1,117 yards and scored 15 touchdowns in 2016, certainly seems like one – his focus never seeming to waver, his intensity rarely waning.
Walton, who turned 20 March 29, is a soft-spoken young man off the field, but he talks as fast as he runs and he doesn’t waste words.
The media was allowed access to Walton, a rising junior, on Thursday, and gently asked him about his mother’s death on March 3. Kimberly Rogers succumbed to a stroke, and Walton, who had already lost his father when he was in elementary school, has been supported by his coaches and teammates.
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“I give my hats off to them,’’ Walton said Thursday of the other Hurricanes. “They gave me some time off when I was going through that moment to be around my family, my inner family, back home. When I got back here I was all ready to go.
“Them guys, they cheer me up every day and just try to not make me think about things. But I’m going to be good regardless.’’
Walton’s accomplishments on the field have been more than good. In addition to his prolific running yardage last season, he gained 240 yards and a touchdown on 27 catches.
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown acknowledged that despite the lack of tailback depth this spring – Walton and sophomore Travis Homer are the only healthy tailbacks on scholarship – he has been giving Walton the same amount of carries, with the first scrimmage scheduled for Saturday.
“Obviously, you want to be conscious of a very talented guy like that,’’ Brown said. “But honestly, he is a competitor, and if I tried to hold him back, he probably wouldn’t let me anyway. I love that about him.’’
Homer, out of West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy, is a special teams phenom who had seven carries for 44 yards all season. On special teams he had eight tackles and one fumble recovery, and said he has added kick returning to his duties.
“We definitely have to keep our conditioning up as a group and keep working each other to get better,’’ said Homer of what it means to have fewer running backs. “I’m definitely in the training room more often and eating a little healthier.’’
Walton serves as a mentor to Homer, and gives him pointers daily.
“Travis is a great running back,’’ Walton said. “There are some little things he needs to work on, like being patient a little bit. But overall I think he’s going to be a hell of a player.’’