March 2, 2017, was probably the worst day of Mark Walton’s young life.
March 2, 2018, might be the most important day of the rest of Walton’s life.
Exactly one year after Walton’s mother Kimberly Rogers died from a stroke, the University of Miami running back will try to pass a critical test.
He will go through his on-field workout, including running and skill drills, at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“I want to show them that Mark Walton is back, he’s healthy,” he said. “What a healthy Mark Walton can do, what he can bring to a team.”
Walton has not played football in some five months. He underwent ankle surgery a month into his junior seasons, and did not play again — although Walton acknowledged Thursday that he was healthy enough to appear in the Orange Bowl, but elected against it.
Nearly two weeks after the bowl game, Walton decided to forgo his final year of eligibility and jump to the NFL. He said Hurricanes coach Mark Richt was supportive. Walton had few other places to turn for advice.
Walton’s dad, Mark Sr., was murdered when he was 7. Rogers became the family’s rock, and Walton’s “motivation in life’’ was to make her happy, he previously told the Herald.
When she died last year, Mark and his 15-year-old younger sister Viola were heartbroken.
“The toughest part was trying to get through the day without seeing your mom on the usual, but there’s a time to move on,” Walton said Thursday. “You kind of like grow from that and try to be a tougher person, a tougher man. There really ain’t too much you can say. I can’t really explain it. It still bothers me the most. I just try not to show my expressions.”
Football bad been his escape, but even that was taken from him last fall. He was largely a spectator during Miami’s breakthrough season.
“It was a huge setback for me,” said Walton. “Just going through the process, treatment, therapy. I was never trying to get too down on the moment, because I knew if I want to come back, I’ve got to attack this process even harder than before. Just attacking it on rehab process like crazy.”
Walton, who measured at 5-9 5/8 and 202 pounds Thursday, said deciding to skip his senior season was “very tough,” particularly given how good UM is expected to be in 2018.
But the time was right for him to become, in his words, a professional athlete.
He is projected to be a mid-round pick — scouts knock his vision and inside running — but Walton insisted Thursday that he doesn’t care when he goes, as long as he goes. Besides, those rankings could change with a really fast day here Friday, or at UM’s Pro Day in a few weeks.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay said on-air Thursday that, given how deep this draft is at running back, “you might end up getting a steal in the fourth round if you get Mark Walton.”
Walton is also a bit forgotten, McShay added, because “we haven’t seen him since September.”
Walton will meet with much of the league by the time the week is out, although the Dolphins had not scheduled a meeting as of Thursday afternoon. No big deal there, however, as he is eligible to attend their local pro day.
“I think the type of guy I am, I think the energy I bring in the room and my story, it speaks for itself,” Walton said. “The type of person that I am, my background, where I came from, I overcame a lot of things and still here today, speaking among you guys. I didn’t give up. That’s a huge notice to those team that I could have gave up. Once my dad passed, my mom passed, I could have thrown everything away. But I was able to stick it out.”