When writer-reporter John Walters began writing our INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL column this season, there was little doubt he would make his mark on the gridiron scene. In fact Walters, 28, leaves marks wherever he goes. That's because he's a friendly and funny fellow, and an insightful journalist to boot. But it's also because of proclivities that have earned him the nickname Spilly.
Walters's friends have learned to run for cover when he enters a room armed with a plate of food or a pile of papers. His most memorable spills include a bowl of velvet corn soup that he deposited on his best navy suit shortly before meeting a date, and two cups of coffee that wound up all over the white shirt of an unlucky coworker.
All too aware of his accident-prone ways, Walters tries to be especially careful at public functions. "When I sat next to [Auburn coach] Terry Bowden at the SEC media lunch last year. I was so nervous about spilling food on him that I could barely eat," he says.
Anyone who knows Walters, who was voted the third most affable member of the class of '84 at Brophy Prep in Phoenix, knows the mishaps are unintentional. Most likely, Walters's fine messes are the result of his frenetic pace. After graduating with a degree in premed from Notre Dame in 1988, Walters spent a year teaching at St. Catherine Indian School in New Mexico before joining SI. But even after taking up his duties at the magazine, he found it difficult to abandon the world of chalkboards and ungraded exams. He moonlighted for a year as a ninth-grade science teacher at Loyola High School on Manhattan's Upper East Side. After boning up on the solar system or some such subject long into the night to stay ahead of his freshmen, Walters would rise at five each weekday morning and run five miles in Central Park. Then he would return to his West Side apartment, grab his grade book and dash across town to beat the 8:00 a.m. first-period bell. By 10:15 a.m. he was in his SI office. "I just loved teaching—it was the favorite part of my day," Walters says. "The only problem was that I'd have to take naps every afternoon at work."
These days one job is plenty for Walters, who keeps tabs on all 107 Division I-A football teams and has yet to be caught napping. "John's energy is a real asset," says senior editor Richard Demak, who oversees the INSIDE COLLEGE FOOTBALL column. "He is perfectly suited to the constantly shifting world of college football."
Although Walters has given up teaching, he continues to run and has competed in two New York City marathons. During one of those races, in 1991, several SI colleagues gathered a mile from the finish to cheer him on. When the weary Walters chugged by, the shouting startled him. "They yelled my name so loud I almost tripped and fell on my face," Walters recalls. Fortunately, he wasn't carrying a cup of coffee at the time.