Notre Dame 2021 Commit Justin Walters — ‘God Created Him To Play Football’
Long-armed, confident, calm, physical and rangy, Bolingbrook (Ill.) High class of 2021 safety Justin Walters, a consensus three-star recruit, is one of the more overlooked prospects in the country.
One of the main knocks on him is that even when turning on his highlight tape, there is not much evidence of the 6-1 and 170-pound defensive back lining up in man-to-man coverage or making plays on the ball in the air. Often, Walters’ job in his high school is to play in the box and clean up intermediate passes and running plays by delivering momentum-halting hits.
Just because evaluators don’t see certain abilities on film, does that mean he does not possess said abilities?
In the offseason, Walters trains at WIN Performance in Highland Park, Ill., which is co-owned by former Notre Dame linebacker Kerry Neal, where the defensive backs work with co-owner and former Eastern Illinois defensive back Pete Houlihan.
Houlihan also runs Off the Leash DBs and works with Walters, as well as several collegiate and professional defensive backs, including current and former Fighting Irish safeties Houston Griffith and Mathias Farley (currently with the New York Jets), Rashaan Melvin, Kenny Moore II (once the highest-paid slot back in the NFL) and others.
“Justin is going to be a special guy,” Houlihan said. “I told this to Kerry the other day, and I said this to Houston, too. I said, ‘Justin Walters is going to be a big name in South Bend for a long time. He’s one of the most gifted kids I’ve ever been around.’ ...
“He’s the most advanced, humble, good high school football player I've ever been around, and I've been around some dogs.”
When it comes to Walters, the dig may be that he is nothing more than a hard-hitting safety, but in training sessions Houlihan sees firsthand that the rising high school senior is more than capable of thriving in passing situations.
During their workouts, Houlihan says they frequently work on pressing and playing man-to-man, pushing Walters’ limits and forcing him to develop an all-around skill set, so that when he arrives at Notre Dame, he’ll be able to play right away.
“The knock may be that he can’t [play man-to-man],” Houlihan said. “But it’s not that he can’t do it, he’s just doing what he’s supposed to do for his high school team, which is to disrupt, be a monster in the box and be a dog, find the ball and go get the ball. That’s it.
“They’ve got Malik Rainey, who’s a commit to Cincinnati. They have good players all over the place, so he’s really not put in that position. But I think he could lock up the number one [wide receiver] in the country right now.”
Given Walters' athletic traits and desire to develop new skills, Houlihan believes he could even play corner at the next level. He is that talented.
After watching his tape, it also seems that a plausible option for him down the road is for him to transition to the rover position as a hybrid safety/linebacker, which could maximize his excellent nose for the ball. While it doesn’t appear this has been discussed with the 2021 commit, Houlihan said that Walters is so humble that he would take on any challenge or role the Notre Dame coaching staff asked of him, just like he does in high school.
“If he’s asked to do it, yeah,” Houlihan said. “I tell the guys all the time, in terms of the League [the NFL], if you really want to get paid, you got to be a guy that locks somebody down and takes them out of the game or you can make tackles for loss and fly downs to get after the quarterback.
“Justin can be a guy that can play on the hash and can play in the box.”
Before he committed to Notre Dame in early February, Walters had offers from a plethora of Power Five programs such as Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Iowa, Iowa State, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, Duke, Boston College and Missouri.
Houlihan acknowledges that Walters’ status as a national recruit would be even more prominent if his film showed more than just ferocious hit after ferocious hit, but Walters cares more about team success than additional offers. Instead, he uses his three-star designation as motivation during training sessions and will allow his play to do the talking.
“[Justin is] different. He’s a special kid,” Houlihan said. “You talk about humble over hype, he’s the definition of that. Obviously he sees it and it’s definitely motivating and his goals are to be the best DB in the country. Nothing more, nothing less.”
While his role in Bolingbrook High’s defense may not change much during his senior season, Houlihan will keep pushing Walters to expand his game and get ready for the next level.
“It’s so natural for him,” Houlihan said. “God created him to play football.”
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