If The Shoe Fits...
July 5, 2012
by Jon Cooper, Sting Daily -
Darren Waller is used to filling big shoes. He wears a size 17, the biggest on the Georgia Tech football team.
While that line might be worthy of a chuckle, more likely a groan, Waller's candidacy to fill the shoes of big-play receiver Stephen Hill, who was selected in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, is no joke.
He is very serious about making an impact and is determined to have a laugh of a different kind — the last laugh.
"I'm putting in a whole lot of work where people aren't really expecting anything out of me," said the 6-5, 220-pound, Acworth, native, who has run a 4.4. "So when they see me out there making plays on Saturday, they'll be like, 'Where has he been?' They don't know that I was ready for my chance and I was working as hard as I could. It wasn't just starting in the off-season. It started from camp last year. It has been such a long journey to where I am now. So I feel like me being under the radar has just kept me more hungry."
Waller, who played at North Cobb High School was recruited as a safety and didn't catch a pass for Tech as a freshman. But he showed his hunger on special teams, and was rewarded last Sept. 24th in Tech's 35-28 victory over North Carolina at Bobby Dodd Stadium, when his second-quarter blocked punt helped him earn Special Teams Player of the Game.
"I actually like special teams because the hungriest players are on special teams," he said. "People that may not get as many reps on offense or defense, it's their time on kickoffs and they're going to knock somebody's helmet off. So you can really find the passion of the game on special teams."
Experiencing the passion and physical play on special teams showed him that he needed to be more physical. That's something he plans to take with him to the wide receiver spot.
Getting to watch Hill, who stood 6-5, 206, as well as past Tech greats Calvin Johnson (6-5, 235) and Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229), all of whom carry similar frames has Waller believing he can make things happen against smaller DBs.
"I've watched film on those guys just to see how they play and how they come off the ball and how they react to different things," he said. "They already have an advantage physically and they're gifted. Just knowing that I have some of the similar gifts, I feel like I can have a similar impact on defenses that they had."
The first step has been to refine his route-running. That was part of a post-Spring Football list compiled by Head Coach Paul Johnson and Receivers Coach Buzz Preston.
"Me, Coach Buzz and Coach Johnson sat down and made a checklist of little things, like how I come off the ball and press coverage to what I'm doing in my routs to make my routs shorter, less choppy and a lot smoother," he said. "More drill-based things, working on my individual development is what I took out of spring ball."
Working with quarterback Tevin Washington has brought noticeable progress.
"I feel a whole lot smoother just being in the offense and the system for a year," he said. "Having people who that know so much about the game around me has been great for my development."
Waller admitted he misses playing safety, but is fully committed to wide receiver.
"I miss playing defense all the time. What I love most about football is hitting people," he said. "It's cool watching guys like Fred [Holton] play safety and I miss those days but I love playing receiver now."
In addition to his commitment, Waller feels he'll be more focused heading into fall practice this time around.
"I feel like in camp last year there were a whole lot of outside things I was distracted by, the heat, getting adjusted to playing a position on the other side of the ball and just trying to do whatever I could to get better," he said. "Now I feel more comfortable. I know what I'm doing. I'm just out there ready to compete and earn something that I feel like I've worked real hard for this off-season. I feel like I can help the team in a really big way. Camp's my time to show it."