O.K., let's get this out of the way up front: Troy Walters, Stanford's star wideout, is short. Very short. "Troy Walters looks more like a jockey than he does a football player," says NFL draft guru Joel Buschbaum. Walters is listed by the Cardinal as standing 5'8", which has to be the most creative computation this side of Denny McLain's tax returns, because Walters is only 5'6�".
Everything else about Walters is supersized. Start with his stats. This fall Walters has set just about every significant receiving record in the pass-happy Pac-10, including the marks for career yardage (3,677 and counting) and career catches (230). In the season's fourth week he went for a single-game school-record 278 yards (including a Pac-10-record 98-yard touchdown reception) in a 42-32 trouncing of UCLA.
Walters has also come up large in the classroom. Twice an Academic All- Pac-10 selection, he has already earned a bachelor of arts degree in communications and now, as a fifth-year senior, is at work on a master's in sociology. Yet Walters's biggest asset may be his character. He leads a weekly Bible study with some of his teammates, has counseled inmates at San Quentin and is such an inspirational leader that, his coaches say, his example in practice, as much as his play in games, has helped propel Stanford to the cusp of a Rose Bowl invitation. "Troy is the epitome of what the student-athlete is all about," says Cardinal coach Tyrone Willingham. "He's not just the kind of person you would want as a player, he's also the kind of person you would want as a son."
Despite that sort of unqualified praise, Walters has no trouble remaining grounded. "What keeps me humble is remembering where I've come from," he says. That would be A&M Consolidated High in College Station, Texas, where he had an outstanding career. Yet only Sam Houston State and Tulsa had him in for a recruiting visit, and neither offered him a scholarship. Walters might never have played big-time college football if not for a family connection and a twist of fate.
During Troy's senior season in high school, in 1994, his father, Trent, was the linebackers' coach for the Minnesota Vikings and lived in the Twin Cities while his family remained in Texas. The Vikings' running backs' coach was Willingham. Troy had grown up as a coach's son, bonding with his father through football—watching tape, drawing up plays with pennies. He sent his dad a tape following each of his high school games, and as Willingham was being courted by Stanford in the fall of '94, these tapes "began mysteriously appearing on my desk," says Willingham. He liked what he saw and, after being hired by the Cardinal in December '94, offered Troy a scholarship.
Size is always an issue with the NFL. Are the league's general managers so small-minded that they won't even give a chance to a player with 4.39 speed, Velcro hands and the ability to run routes sharp enough to give a defensive back a paper cut? "If Troy were six feet, he probably would be a first-rounder," says Trent, all of 5'9" himself. Troy doesn't let his mind wander like that, but he does know that he belongs at the next level, in part because he spent the summer of 1994 as a paid gofer during the Vikings' camp. While there, he often got to serve as a practice receiver to help work out Minnesota's quarterbacks. "They were throwing fastballs, but I hung on O.K.," he says. Not that his summer job was all that glamorous; he also had equipment duties. "I had to pick up used jocks, man," he says.
That seems to be the only dirty laundry in the life of Troy Walters, who, regardless of his height, is exactly what a college football player should be like.