The Yellow Jackets scored a touchdown eight plays later, but it served as another reminder that Walcott hasn’t gone anywhere. After two position changes and one brush with the law, the redshirt senior is back in the starting lineup and savoring every moment back in his coaches’ good graces.
In January 2011, Walcott’s Virginia career was in jeopardy after he was arrested along with teammates Mike Price and Devin Wallace in conjunction with a fight at a party near James Madison University. Coach Mike London suspended Walcott indefinitely — Price and Wallace are no longer on the team — and he did not participate in spring practice.
Walcott’s charges were eventually dropped, but as part of his reinstatement process, Walcott used the time away from the game to better himself through various forms of counseling. He never thought about transferring elsewhere.
“This is where I started everything, so I wanted to finish it here,” he said as Virginia prepared to play at No. 17 TCU this week.
“When something like that happens, it kind of smacks you in the face a little bit. You wake up a little bit and you understand the opportunities that you have in front of you and you just want to go out and get them.”
Even if it means changing positions again.
The last time Walcott faced the Horned Frogs, as a redshirt freshman in 2009, he was a 195-pound safety. The next year he moved to strong-side linebacker and finished third on the team in tackles. But one of Walcott’s high school coaches always told him his best position might end up being defensive end, and he proved prescient.
Upon returning to the team before last season, Walcott went to the weight room and morphed himself into a 240-pound pass rusher. The reads are faster and he’s often dwarfed by opposing tackles, but the move has been a boon for Virginia. Defensive end Bill Schautz, the opening game starter, is nursing a lower leg injury and could miss his second straight game Saturday.
Walcott first replaced Schautz against Penn State two weeks ago and proved to be a menace in passing situations. After Walcott ended that game with five tackles and several hits on Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin, London made it a point to praise him for the manner in which he dealt with his prior off-field troubles.
“He’s had issues here, but I’m so proud of him that he’s kind of turned his life around in terms of being that model. . . of doing well in class, of doing the things he’s supposed to do, wanting to learn how to play football, being accountable to his teammates. He’s made tremendous strides in that area,” London said.
Safety Brandon Phelps echoed his coach’s thoughts and used Walcott’s hustle play last week as an example of how his zeal for the game is the sort of energy the Cavaliers’ inexperienced players thrive on.
Walcott has tried to impart some of his new-found wisdom to teammates, whom he described as having a “fire” in them after the blowout loss at Georgia Tech.
As he’s well aware of by now, running after quarterbacks is a lot more fun than running into trouble.
“I wouldn’t want any of them to go through things like that,” Walcott said. London “tells us you have to make sure you protect your own personal brand and that’s what I tell them to do. Sometimes you have to walk away from things. Everybody learns it once in a while in their life.”