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This story was republished courtesy of the Big Red Sports Network. It was written by Spencer DeRoos.
Growing up, every sports crazed young kid dreams of having the chance to win a championship playing for their hometown team. Very few, however, are able to accomplish that feat. Bryan Walters was one of those few.
As a child from Bothell outside Seattle, Washington, Walters, a diehard Seahawks fan, always knew he had a passion for football. He attended Juanita High School in Kirkland, Washington, where he was a three-time all-league pick in baseball, a two-time captain and all-league pick in basketball, and he set numerous school records as a quarterback, wide receiver, and safety on the football team. Despite being a three-sport star in high school, there was only one of those games that truly attracted Walters the most.
“Growing up, football was always the sport I had the most passion for,” he said. “From as long as I can remember, football was the sport I wanted to play.”
A three-time all-league pick for the Rebels, Walters set team records as a senior for all purpose yards, total offense, and completions in a game. He racked up 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air, while adding another 596 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Despite his success on the gridiron, Walters was only lightly recruited and had just a handful of scholarship offers. He decided to travel 2,500 miles across the country to play for the Big Red in Ithaca, New York. “It was definitely hard to pass up. I knew about the prestige of attending an Ivy League school,” Walters explained about his decision. “To have the opportunity to not only attend, but play the sport I love was something I couldn’t pass up.”
When Walters arrived at Cornell in the fall of 2006, the Big Red were by no means a football powerhouse, having wallowed in the middle to lower half of the Ivy League for several years. During Walters’ rookie year, they would go on to conclude the season with a record of 5-5 and place 4th in the conference for the second year in a row. However, that would be the best finish the team would have in his four years on the hill.
Coming to Cornell
Coming into Cornell not only as an outstanding athlete, but also as an excellent student, Walters knew he had to handle the pressures and demands of being a student-athlete at an Ivy League institution. However, he managed to thrive both on and off the field, graduating in 2010 with a degree in Economics and becoming a member of the prestigious Sphinx Head Society.
“It’s all a balancing act and taught me really good time management skills. I knew being a student-athlete at any school was going to be a challenge, but especially at Cornell,” Walters said. “I’m grateful that I not only had a great playing career but also a very valuable degree.”
Walters was just like any other Cornell student off the field, as he still reminisces about competing in intramural sports, following the basketball team on their historic sweet sixteen run, and eating at the dining halls. However, once he got inside Schoellkopf, Walters transformed into a hardworking play maker. Although the team around him was mediocre at best during his Big Red career, he would become a star in the Ivy League as both a receiver and returner on special teams. When Walters graduated in 2010, he had set numerous school records and the Ivy League marks for most career punt and kick return yards.
Dream of NFL takes shape
With four years worth of accolades and highlights, Walters played in many Ivy League football battles. “My favorite memory was beating Penn my freshmen year. It was my first taste of the classic Penn/Cornell rivalry. Returning a kickoff for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter to take the lead was a great way for me to cap off my first year of college football and build momentum going into my sophomore season,” he described.
For Walters, his lifetime dream of being an NFL player started to take shape during his final year. “It had always been a goal of mine, but it became a reality when a couple scouts came in to look at me throughout my senior season. That got the ball rolling,” he stated. “After that year, Coach Howley and I sat down and mapped out a good workout schedule to help me really pursue my dream and get ready for any workouts or pro days the scouts would put me through.”
For all the work Walters put into preparing for the game’s greatest stage, he went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft. He quickly signed his first contract with the San Diego Chargers the day after the draft concluded, a milestone Walters would never forget, but he knew it signified nothing if he failed to make the team.
“It was special, but I also understood that it was just the beginning. I knew a door was opening for me, but I had to make sure that I worked even harder to make an impact and have a long career in this league,” Walters said.
Signing with the ‘team you grew up with’
While he was released in training camp, Walters bounced on and off the Chargers practice squad for the next two years. Following a brief stint in 2012 with the Minnesota Vikings, he was able to finally live out the dream of his childhood and play for his hometown Seattle Seahawks by signing a contract with the organization in the fall of 2012, an opportunity he cherished.
“It was pretty surreal. I grew up watching the Seahawks, wearing Seattle jerseys and everything,” Walters recalled fondly. “To sign an NFL contract, let alone with the team you grew up with, was pretty special.”
Fortunately, merely signing with his hometown team was not the last great thrill Walters would experience with the Seahawks, as, in 2013, he was on the squad for their post season run. Even though Walters was inactive for the entire postseason, he still got to enjoy winning a Super Bowl with the team he grew up rooting for.
“The experience was pretty amazing. That’s what you dream of when you’re growing up. To be able to celebrate that accomplishment with my teammates and family is something I will never forget,” Walters said. “Especially being from Seattle. It was my hometown’s first Super Bowl win and first championship of any major sport since the 70s when the Sonics won an NBA title.”
Walters was on the Seahawks roster through the 2014 season, though his role was largely as a punt returner and fifth receiver. He totaled just six catches on the year, as he bounced on and off the roster. The Seahawks made their playoff march once again the following season, and Walters was active for the Super Bowl, even returning two punts this time, but he failed to record a catch.
Walters signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars in free agency this March and has put together a breakout year for the team. He has already more than tripled his career numbers with 29 catches for 336 yards through the first nine games, which Walters credits to his current situation.
“I think a lot to do with this league is opportunity. I didn’t quite get that opportunity on the field that I did in Seattle because I was just a punt returner. I think being here and – I hate to say it – being the old vet in the room, is a role that I’ve been able to do. I want to be dependable, and I want to move the sticks for [Blake Bortles],” Walters mentioned.
First NFL TD for a Cornellian since 1987
As consistent as Walters has been for Jacksonville as a third receiver behind Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson, it took him until week nine to score his first career touchdown. “It was a weight off my back – a long time coming,” Walters reflected. “It was finally nice to get that milestone for me. Being in New York, I went to school there, so I had a bunch of old teammates at the game, and it was fun.”
The touchdown scored by Walters against the New York Jets was the first scored by a Cornellian in the NFL since John Tagliaferre in 1987 and the first receiving touchdown by a Big Red player since Ed Marinaro in 1975.
As a 27-year-old veteran in his sixth year in the league, Walters hopes to play for a few more years. For one of the greatest offensive players in Cornell history, it’s been a wild ride, and one that he hopes to stretch out for as long as possible.
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