Work in Sports
A great catch
Florida State lands a keeper in juco star Walker
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
The ball hung up in the night air, floating downfield in the direction of the only two players on the field who had a chance to catch it.
Javon Walker, a wide receiver barely two games into his college career at Florida State, worked his way back to the pass, ducking underneath a sprawling Georgia Tech defensive back, and softly brought it in, long-legging the final eight or 10 yards into the end zone for a 63-yard touchdown.
That throw -- and that catch -- have been missing lately at Florida State, the No. 2 team in the latest college football polls. For the past couple of years, FSU's offense had been, in large part, getting the ball to wideout Peter Warrick -- no matter how -- and letting him run the rest of the way.
Now that Warrick has graduated, though, the Seminoles hope to switch that up a bit. That's where Walker comes in.
"He's a tall guy who can really spread the field for you. He can go up and get the jump ball when you need him to," quarterback Chris Weinke says of Walker. "Some of our thoughts going into [the Georgia Tech game were] that we wanted to go deep. We might not be able to get by them, but we think we can outjump them."
At 6-foot-3, Walker, a junior college transfer who has been one of Weinke's main targets this season, is the type of receiver who can wrestle a ball away from a cornerback or climb up to catch the ball in traffic over the middle.
He has shown the speed to get downfield and the ability to take even a bad throw -- or an underthrown one, like Weinke's ball last Saturday -- and make something special happen.
He has done so much of that, in fact, that coaches already are calling for deep balls to him.
"It feels pretty good knowing that the stuff that I'm doing in practice, the coaches are really taking it in," says Walker. "It's meant a lot to me to show I can play, that I could fit into this offense."
FSU receivers coach Jeff Bowden thought Walker would be a fit from the start. Bowden recruited Walker in high school and was sold on him when he saw Walker -- a high school running back -- run a sweep on the left side of the field, cut inside the safety and take off on a long touchdown run.
Bowden, who likes to turn high school running backs into college wide receivers "because they know what it feels like to get hit," still had questions about Walker's ability to catch the ball. But the youngster's running was enough to keep the Seminoles interested, even after Walker got sidetracked into a Mississippi junior college.
Walker became one of the top prospects in the country at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss. He finally showed up in Tallahassee in January ready to go.
"Boy, if he'd have had two or three years in this system now," Bowden says, "he would be phenomenal."
Walker has nine catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns in the Seminoles' first two games, both wins, even after missing most of last Saturday's win over Georgia Tech with a bad ankle he sprained on his 63-yard touchdown catch. Walker will admit he still has plenty to work on. He needs to run his routes more crisply, he says, and he needs to adjust to defenses better.
But his hands are no longer a question. "It's like an octopus going up out there," Bowden says. And the fact that he's a regular in the Seminoles' four-wide set means Florida State is willing to let him learn on the job.
"It's kind of difficult, when you first think about it," Walker says about the FSU offense. "But as the season goes on and you practice more, everything starts clicking. Then you can start critiquing yourself."
There are other receivers the Seminoles will rely on this season, like 6-foot-2 Anquan Boldin and 6-foot-1 Marvin Minnis. Weinke already has completed passes to nine different receivers.
But Walker figures that works out better for everyone.
"The defense can't come out and really focus on one player," he says. "So the best thing a defense can do is hope to contain. That gives everybody a chance to get open."
And if Walker gets his chance, he's already shown what he can do.
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