The thoughts of doubt crept through Mark Walton’s mind.
A little more than five months ago, Walton was carted off the field in Miami’s win against Florida State.
The running back’s junior season was over just a month after it began. His future football plans, however, were uncertain.
“I couldn’t even move my ankle,” Walton said, “so I was thinking ‘I don’t know if I’m even going to play football again.’”
On Wednesday, at least for a moment, those thoughts went away.
Walton walked off the field at the Miami Dolphins’ training camp facility in Davie knowing the injury was in the past.
With representatives from all 32 NFL teams and a host of his former teammates watching, Walton ran through drills with poise and is setting himself up for a chance to hear his name called in the 2018 NFL Draft in April.
“I’m back, baby,” he exclaimed afterward.
Walton wasn’t alone.
With the Hurricanes’ draft class lacking that standout “star” this year, the emphasis many of the Miami players took at their Pro Day on Wednesday centered on giving all 32 teams a good look at exactly what they bring to the table.
Miami coach Mark Richt had no problem talking them up, either.
“There’s not one guy out there that I can’t brag wholeheartedly about as a person and as a player,” Richt said. “They’ve all been awesome for us.”
There were RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton, the defensive tackles who left school a year early to pursue their professional dreams. Both are projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round range.
There was Braxton Berrios, the wide receiver who made a statement in his final year and wants those in the NFL to know there’s more to come. He’s only 5-9, but he’s quick on his feet and showed this season that he has the potential to take over games in big moments (see the Florida State game for Exhibit A).
There was Chris Herndon, the senior tight end who sustained a season-ending MCL injury against Pittsburgh and is still making his way back to full health. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash on Wednesday but went through individual drills.
And, of course, there was Walton, who played in just three full games during his junior year before that season-ending injury.
But that injury and the subsequent rehab, that feeling while he sat on his couch unable to run let alone get back on the football field, was enough to push him to make a comeback.
“I think it just made me love the game more,” Walton said, “because something I really love was taken away from me for a moment.”
Berrios and Walton met with scouts on Tuesday to go over film. When the scouts asked the two what game they wanted to go over, Berrios looked to Walton.
“You’ve got two,” Berrios said. “Pick one.”
They ended up choosing the Toledo game, a smart choice for both parties. Walton ran for a career-high 204 yards and a touchdown in that game. Berrios caught five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in the 52-30 win.
“It’s incredible,” Berrios said. “We had a 1,000-yard back, really I think easily a top-five back in this draft class who got hurt this year and wasn’t able to do all the things for us that he wanted. Now, having him out here and showing these scouts that he’s 100 percent, that he’s ready, that he’s a bull in a china shop, it really meant a lot.”
Now the focus shifts to individual workouts and meetings, hoping to leave enough of a lasting impression on at least one team to have the opportunity to play at the next level.
And when Walton hears his name during the draft, whenever that is, he knows the emotional journey will have been worth it.
“I’m gonna cry,” Walton said. “It’s going to feel great, but some tears are going to be shed.”