Former NFL cornerback Darrin Walls making impact on Baldwin coaching staff

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Friday, October 12, 2018 | 12:09 AM


Darrin Walls is in his second season as defensive coordinator of the Baldwin football team.

Walls, 30, is a Woodland Hills and Notre Dame graduate who went on to a prominent career as an NFL cornerback.

Walls was selected as a second-team defensive back on the USA Today prep All-America squad for 2005, and was named a first-team All-America defensive back by CSTV. He was rated 25th nationally on a list of the top 150 prep players by CollegeFootballNews.com.

Walls was chosen to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and was a Tribune-Review Terrific 25 all-star selection. He was a three-sport athlete (football, baseball, track), and was coached by George Novak at Woodland Hills, the same high school that produced Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins.

Also in high school, Walls was a state finalist in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in 2006.

He enrolled in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, double majoring in sociology and psychology. His college coaches were Charlie Weis and, in his senior year, Brian Kelly; and his fastest recorded 40-yard dash time was 4.37, which he attained at his pro day at Notre Dame.

Walls was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011 by the Atlanta Falcons, and played for the New York Jets from 2012-15. He also was a member of the Detroit Lions in the spring and summer of 2016 before being released prior to the start of the regular season.

Walls is the son of former NBA and CBA player Darrin Walls Sr., who spent time with the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets in the 1980s before playing for Sacramento in the CBA.

Baldwin’s second-year coach oversees the Darrin Walls Foundation, promoting healthy lifestyle and high education.

The Baldwin football team, led by head coach Loran Cooley, who also is in his second year with the team, is 2-3 in the Allegheny Eight Conference and 4-3 overall. The Fighting Highlanders have outscored the opposition by a 208-145 overall margin, and have defeated Fox Chapel (34-7), Butler (58-13), Moon (48-42) and Chartiers Valley (21-14) by a 161-76 difference.

Baldwin’s three losses were close decisions against No. 4 West Allegheny, 29-26; No. 5 Upper St. Clair, 28-21; and Woodland Hills, 12-0, at the Wolvaren

Walls, who would like to coach at the collegiate level in the future, took time recently to participate in a candid Q&A:

What are your thoughts on the Baldwin football team’s performance so far this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball?

I want to first recognize the players for the tremendous work they have put in since November of last year. They worked extremely hard in the weight room this offseason. Over the summer, we competed and won multiple seven-on-seven tournaments, as well.

So, heading into this season, I knew we had talented kids who were willing to put in the work to be successful. This year thus far, we have shown that we can compete with anyone. We have yet to put a full game together on the defensive ball side of the ball. We have shown spurts of playing great defense. We are inconsistent at times, and in our conference, that’ll get you beat.

How close is Baldwin to becoming a playoff and/or elite football program? What is the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team?

We are on the verge of something special here. We have lost three games, three games that could potentially have us at 7-0. In two of those, we were leading late in the game.

We have to get used to winning here. I’m not sure if our kids ever experienced a winning season. The culture has to change. I think that’s the biggest difference this year. Our guys are changing their mindset, their beliefs and their wants. They want to win, and they want to do it the right way. They have confidence to do that. Coach Cooley has done an outstanding job with the team. When we first got here, the Baldwin defense was giving up 38 points per game. This season, we are giving up 19 per game. That’s great; the kids believe and trust in themselves and their coaches.

I want to make sure my players are recognized. They have been like sponges and are finally starting to get what it takes to win. C.J. Robbins (a sophomore defensive back) has been a true student of the game. He has picked my brain and is beside me at every practice, trying to learn and be the best he can be.

Our coaches have been great with our players, and I love those guys. We are like a family.

Can you share some of your experiences/fondest memories of what it was like playing at Woodland Hills, Notre Dame and in the NFL?

There are so many memories I have throughout my career that it’s hard to choose. One of my greatest memories in high school was winning the WPIAL championship in 2002. It was a feeling that one cannot describe. Being one of three freshmen to make a Woodland Hills football team was an honor and accomplishment that I will forever cherish.

Also, losing the WPIAL championship in 2005 taught me so much more than I did winning one. Those are some experiences I will never forget.

There is nothing greater in the world than playing Saturday afternoons in South Bend at Notre Dame stadium. Every week was a sellout crowd of 88,000-plus. Running through the tunnel with my brothers every week is an indescribable feeling. One of my favorite moments of playing for Notre Dame had to be the pick-six I had against Penn State. It was a ‘whiteout’ game in 2007. I had 30-plus people drive from Pittsburgh to Happy Valley to see me play. Silencing a screaming crowd of 105,000 is something that will stay with me forever.

The NFL was great to me. My fondest memory of playing professional football was being able to learn from the best, Darrelle Revis. In 2012, I got hurt in training camp with the Atlanta Falcons. They soon released me. Revis tore his ACL a month later. The New York Jets called me to be on their practice squad once that happened. Throughout the years, Revis bounced around from Tampa to New England, and then finally back to New York with the Jets. Learning from him was the best thing that has happened to me while playing in the NFL. He’s a true professional and teammate. He made you better just by watching him work his craft. He’s the best to ever do it in my eyes, so who wouldn’t want to learn from the best? He was actually my host on my official visit trip to Pitt in 2005. With all that being said, his injury gave me a chance somewhere else, and a chance to learn from the greatest corner.

What positions did you play at Woodland Hills?

Running back, wide receiver, defensive back and kick returner.

What made you choose Notre Dame? What other colleges were you considering?

Notre Dame just felt like home. I felt comfortable with the coaching staff, my recruiting coordinator and the players. Every time I took a visit, or saw them play, my gut feeling was saying to choose Notre Dame.

Also, I was not choosing a school for the four-year plan. I was choosing a school for the 40-year plan. When I look back 40 years from now, my degree from Notre Dame will be just as solid as any other degree in the nation.

Last but not least, I had an opportunity to play early. Every kid’s dream is to play college football and at Notre Dame that was a reality.

I had close to 40 other D1 scholarships. However, it came down to Florida, Michigan, Penn State, USC and Pitt.

Was it always your dream to play in the NFL?

Honestly, as a kid I wanted to be a baseball player. I was better in baseball than I was football. Baseball was my sport; I loved it. I just so happened to be good at football, as well.

My dream was to play for the University of Florida, the Gators. Playing youth football, it was all about the Garfield Gators. I grew up in Garfield where everyone up there at the time bled orange and blue. I would try to watch as many Gator games as I could on Saturdays when I was not playing. The NFL did not come to mind until late in my high school career when everyone was telling me how good I was. I still had not believed the hype.

What were some of your first impressions in your NFL rookie season?

My rookie season, I had to guard Julio Jones almost every play. Man, that was tough. But once I got through training camp, I realized it was not as hard as I thought. In my rookie season, I recognized that my studying had to increase, taking care of my body had to be a focal point, and paying attention to detail was a major priority. I had to soon realize that the NFL is a business. The coaches are not there to baby you or make sure you’re doing your job because if you are not, they will just cut you and find someone who will get the job done.

Do you have a favorite NFL memory?

Getting my first interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.

Who is the best player, or players, you’ve ever gone up against?

In no particular order, Julio Jones and Antonio Brown.

Can you give us an “inside scoop” …. what’s the NFL really like?

There really is not much inside scoop. However, I can say it is a business first.

What are your future coaching aspirations?

I aspire to be a cornerbacks coach at a Big 5 collegiate program. Right now, I’m just enjoying coaching. This is my first stint coaching. I love my kids and our staff.

Can you elaborate on the purpose/function of the Darrin Walls Foundation?

Growing up in Garfield exposed me to a lot of things; one mainly not being privileged to experience certain things. So I came up with the Darrin Walls Foundation to help give kids who grew up like me opportunities to succeed in the classroom and in their perspective sport.

The foundation strives to provide at-risk youth with physical fitness activities, and educational advancement to promote healthy and active lifestyles as well as higher education. The foundation provides sports training, mentorship, scholarship programs and after-school tutoring for boys and girls.

You celebrated your 30th birthday this summer. Did you do anything special?

Yes, I celebrated in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with a bunch of friends. Man, I’m getting old.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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