Running back Mark Walton is about to begin his new life as a Cincinnati Bengal, and expect him to work as hard as anyone in the NFL.
The Bengals selected Walton with the 12th pick of the fourth round — 112th overall — in the NFL Draft on Saturday.
Walton, 21, was one of three Hurricanes to leave school as an underclassman, even after missing most of the 2017 season because of surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right ankle. But there’s no denying that Walton, out of Miami Booker T. Washington High, was a major talent at UM, where he rushed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2016, and could catch just about anything thrown his way.
He had 27 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown as a freshman.
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Walton, a powerfully built 5-9 and 205 pounds, entered this past season’s game against FSU on Oct. 7 with a 9.1 yards-per-carry average, second best in the nation. His 134.3 rushing yards a game were fifth best. But with a daughter born in February 2017 and siblings to help support after his mother died of a stroke March 2, Walton chose to enter the draft after rehabbing all season.
Walton's father, Mark Walton Sr., was murdered, he said, when he was about 7 or 8 years old, after his parents were already separated. He adored his mother.
Walton was considered one of UM's most loyal players, and he, in turn, seemed to be one of coach Mark Richt's favorites.
Richt called him "a machine.''
"He loves the game,'' Richt said of Walton to UM broadcaster Joe Zagacki. "He loves his teammates, he loves the grind of practice, he loves the grind of the strength and conditioning. He just embraces every bit of football. He's a super fun guy to coach.''
New Miami Dolphins running back and Canes legend Frank Gore, who also grew up in Miami, said last week that he has been a longtime fan of Walton's.
"He'll be fine,'' Gore told the Miami Herald. "Mark does everything — catches, runs, is tough, loves the game. That's what we do when we're from Miami. We live, sleep, eat football. Don't matter what he gets picked, as long as he gets out there, he'll show that team they made the right choice.''
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper called Walton “a second round talent’’ that could drop to the “fourth or fifth round’’ because of the previous injury. "He looked like a guaranteed third-round pick and then he had the ankle injury. Go back to two years ago, 2016, he was outstanding in a lot of areas. He can catch, he runs inside, he can bounce it to the outside.''
Walton was determined to be a success no matter when he was picked.
"I want to be with a group of guys ready to win,'' he said earlier in the week. "But no matter where it is, I'll be satisfied. I feel great, and can't wait to show my daughter a different life than what I had. It's what I always envisioned.''