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Sundays with Walker



For a while, running back Darius Walker's decision to leave a bright career at Notre Dame didn't seem to be working.

He wasn't selected in this year's NFL draft. He signed a free agent contract with the Texans. He was cut and later resigned to the team's practice squad. He thought he'd get his chance earlier this season, but coach Gary Kubiak said he wasn't ready.

Sunday he was.

Walker, who ranks high in several Notre Dame career rushing categories, stepped in for injured Ron Dayne Sunday and helped the Texans upset playoff contending Tampa Bay 28-14.

"I was excited to be out there, but I'll tell you it's all live bullets," Walker said. "It's a whole different level from what I'm used to, but enjoyed it and I'm happy to come out with a victory."

Walker gained four yards on his first NFL carry. He rushed 46 yards on 16 carries and had six catches for 35 yards. He was happy that his opportunity finally arrived.

"I got more carries than I expected, but I wanted it," Walker said. "I told myself that I was up for the challenge and when I got my opportunity I would take it and do the best I could.

"It's been a long time coming. A lot of work went into it. It just feels good to get a victory."

{QUOTE}Ron Dayne started the game and contributed to the Texans' first touchdown drive. Then, an ankle injury that bothered him earlier this week, resurfaced and Walker got his first NFL playing time.

"It's not good," coach Gary Kubiak said of Dayne's injury. "It's just sore and he took a shot at halftime. He tried to go for us. He's battling."

So is Walker.

"As the game went on, I felt more comfortable," Walker said. "I stopped thinking, 'Oh my God, I'm in the game.' Then, 'OK, this is what I've got to do, make this cut, make this guy miss.' As the game went on, I got more comfortable."

Walker never doubted his decision to leave Notre Dame early.

"I always felt it was the right move for me and I'm thrilled it's working out for me," Walker said. "It shows that if you really want something, you've got to work for it and if it's meant to be, it will come around. I'm thankful it's my opportunity."

Sage Rosenfels was starting the game in place of Matt Schaub.

"He really showed us (the way), he led the team," Walker said. "He really made me feel comfortable in the huddle. He was calling plays and looking directly at me, making sure I knew what was going on. I appreciated that."

Kubiak was happy to see Walker perform.

"The kid went in there and there was nothing spectacular, but he was very solid," Kubiak said. "He got to play in a football game against a heck of a team. He held up, he did a good job of protection and he made a couple of plays in the game. That's a step forward for him and we'll continue to try to get him better and better."

Walker thought he was going to get a chance earlier this season. Kubiak thought otherwise.

"I don't think you get to go out there just because you're next in line," Kubiak said. "I think players have to prove to their teammates that they're ready to go. He got a chance to get an opportunity a few weeks ago, and I didn't really like the way he responded to his first chance."

So, Walker continued to sit. He worked harder.

"I challenged him," Kubiak said. "He went right back this week and had a great week of work. At the end of this past week, his teammates felt like he deserved to be out there. That's what you have to do.

"This game is about respect and everybody earning their way on that field. I'm proud of the kid. It's a step forward now and let's keep moving forward."

Walker won't have much time to relax. The Texans get right back into action Thursday night against the Denver Broncos.

"It's definitely been a journey, going from after the draft was over and coming here and then being let go and then being called back," Walker said. "It's just been one of those things that's been a struggle for me to get in there, but now it's an opportunity that came 13 weeks into the season."

Walker got a good taste of what's ahead if he continues to produce. He filled his blocking assignments, too.

"That's a big thing for a back in the NFL, being able to stay in there and block," he said. "When you have a coach that will let you stay in there with pass pro, that shows how much confidence he has in you."

Now, it all seems worth the gamble to leave college early.

"The NFL is one of those things that you just have to go with it," Walker said. "You can't look back. You can't worry about 'what ifs.' You have to do what's right for you and that's what I did."

EDITOR'S NOTE: *Michael A. Lutz worked for The Associated Press for 38 years covering news and sports in Louisville, Ky. Dallas and Houston. Most of that time was spent in Houston covering the Oilers, Astros, Texans and other college and pro sports. *

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