Mark Walton said he's always been a diehard Hurricanes fan. So becoming a Cane soon will be easy.
"No matter what record we had, what record we finished with, I was always a University of Miami fan," the 17-year-old Booker T. Washington running back said on Wednesday. "Edgerrin James was my favorite player."
Walton got a chance to meet James at the Florida State game back on Nov. 15.
"He didn't know I was committed and he asked me what position I played," Walton said. "I told him running back. He started telling me, 'This is a great place for you. You've got the ability to change your family's life.' I said, 'Did you regret going to the University of Miami?' He said, 'Not at all, that's a decision he made and it was the best decision he made his whole life, and it helped change his whole life."
Walton is looking forward to following in James' footsteps soon. A UM commitment since Sept. 29, 2013 (he's the second-longest commitment in the 2015 class), Walton said this week that barring any major coaching changes in Coral Gables (and even that might not be enough) he plans to sign with the Hurricanes on Feb. 4.
Miami has been his dream school since he was little. Walton said he does have visits lined up to go to Louisville, West Virginia and Georgia after visiting UM this weekend. But he says that's really just in case he has to turn to Plan B.
"The reason I'm going to the University of Miami is because I feel like me, coach Ice, coach Golden and [offensive coordinator James] Coley have a great relationship," Walton said. "Being around them, I love their energy. I think we have a great relationship more than any coach that is recruiting me."
2K15 Canes Mark Walton pic.twitter.com/eagJrcUfFx— Mark Deuce Walton (@F5_DEUCE) January 9, 2015
One of six children, Walton said he's been raised by his mother Kimberly Rogers for most of his life. Walton said his father, Mark Walton Sr., was murdered when he was about seven or eight years old -- after his parents were already separated.
"He was stabbed in the heart by his girlfriend," Walton said. "It affected me big time. I knew he wanted me to do the right things in life and keep my head focused. That's my motivation in life, make my mom happy, the way she treats me. She broke her back for me. I want to make her happy at the end of the day."
Listed at 5-10, 179 pounds, Walton ran for 1,470 yards and 22 touchdowns this season on 203 carries and also caught 24 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns. His high school career numbers (2,769 yards rushing, 45 touchdowns; 36 catches, 462 yards, 7 TDs) would have continued to go up next season had Walton not worked hard to rejoin the 2015 class.
After being held back in the third grade, Walton said he made it his goal when he got to high school to rejoin his class and graduate on time. So he said he did a lot of virtual school over the summer to catch up. He went from starting the school year as a junior in the Class of 2016 to being moved up to a senior and the class of 2015 once his virtual school credits went into effect.
Coach Tim Harris Jr., a University of Miami grad and the son of UM running backs coach Ice Harris, said the Tornadoes are definitely going to miss Walton's leadership next year.
Teammate Devante Davis, a Texas commitment and star cornerback also visiting UM this weekend, said Walton was the player everyone rallied around this season when times got tough because he "brought the swag to the team."
"I see a little bit of Duke [Johnson] in him," Harris Jr. said of Walton. "But in all honesty without the track speed Duke has. I also see a little Clinton Portis with the patience, the running, the vision. Then you see the explosiveness of Willis [McGahee] when he was there."
Harris Jr. said Walton also adds another valuable dimension to the Canes -- superior pass catching ability out of the backfield.
"Being in our system he had an opportunity to add to his game as a receiver," Harris Jr. said. "That dynamic of him taking it to that offense down there can help them open up even more. For us, there were many times he lined up at receiver in one-on-one situations. He's confident he can be an outside threat while also being a running back."
As a runner, Harris Jr. said Walton can handle all phases: "he can run outside, he can pound you and he run it inside."
"At the end of the day, Mark is a playmaker who wants it on his back when things get tough," Harris Jr. said. "You can't coach that in kids.
"The big games we had this year, Mark was that calming factor not only for the players, but even us, the guys on the coaching staff. There were some games he would come to me and say 'Coach, don't worry about it. We're in tough situations, give it to me, I've got it.' I would tell him, 'They're stacking the box. You're not going to be able to do too much.' He would say, 'Coach I got it, I'll figure out how to run against them.' That happened in two of our tough games at the end of the season. Our trusting him and believing in him with his growth over the years, he's made sure to make those things pay off."
One thing Walton wants on his back when he arrives in Coral Gables is helping change the culture around UM. He's not big into losing. After all, he's won three state titles at Booker T. Washington in three high school seasons. So he has no idea what it's like to walk off the field a loser at the end of a season.
"From my conversations with Brad Kaaya I know he wants to change it around," Walton said. "I just want to go in, bring the team together as a family and just let these guys know we've got to win. It's time for the University of Miami to be back. Let's bring more energy. Let's start winning, get all the negativity out, make our fans happy. Do it the right way, win."