FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – Davon Walls has always popped on film, but for the New York Jets rookie defensive lineman, it was a piece of tape from 2013 that he's hoping won't define him.
At the time, the Brooklyn-born Walls was just coming off a junior year at Syracuse where he was showing some promise and he figured to be a big part of the Orange's defense the following year. He had spent the previous two years at Coahoma Community College where he played both offensive and defensive line as well as playing on the school's basketball team. He was considered a bit of a project but he also had enormous potential. He's flat-out a big boy, a space eater who showed flashes of making plays behind the line.
Then one day that March, Walls and a teammate at Syracuse robbed an on-campus apartment. His escape was caught on camera. The hulking defensive tackle was easy to identify, leading to his arrest. He was eventually kicked off the football team and was sentenced to probation.
He ended up at Lincoln University in Missouri, a Division II program. It was a far cry from Syracuse and the ACC where he played against programs like Florida State and Miami. Here at Lincoln there were games against schools like Quincy in front of a couple thousand fans. That didn't matter much to Walls, he didn't just wanted a chance at redemption.
At Lincoln against inferior opposition, Walls put up staggering numbers as he faced double and triple teams. The numbers were eye-popping as he registered 43 tackles including 17.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks. It might have been against schools like William Jewell, but he still turned heads. The numbers were hard to ignore.
Finally, once again, the film on him wasn't him trying to make a getaway. It was again tape of him dragging down opponents behind the line of scrimmage. And with that return to prominence came maturity and healing from the mistake he made.
“A few years ago I had a great opportunity to play college football and I messed that up. I'm back, I learned from it. Now I need to grow from that,” Walls told Metro last week. “If I had to talk to some youth, I'd tell them to think before they move, just go ahead and do what you do best. Don't do nothing else. You get an opportunity to do something like I did, it's tough.
“My brother told me 'Man, listen, you have to grow from this. You can't go about doing stuff like this.' Like I said you have to learn from it, grow from it. Make this, right here, right now, matter more.”
After the season at Lincoln ended, Walls heard the chatter. He had put together a good season and there might be teams interested in him. But the teams weren't supposed to be in the NFL.
The Canadian Football League or the FXFL seemed like possible landing spots. Walls, from a Division II school with only one year of a body of work, didn't seem to be headed towards a career on Sundays.
But a couple good workouts with NFL teams before the draft last month and that word 'potential' began to circulate again. But now it wasn't the 'wasted potential' he was tagged with last spring following his arrest. Now teams saw that he was untapped and raw. There might be something to work with.
One NFL scout told Metro after the draft that “Walls could have been a mid-to-late round pick if he had the kind of season at Syracuse that he did at Lincoln, not an undrafted guy. I mean a comparable season. No one expects the type of numbers he put up but the type of plays he made. His tape impresses.”
He completed probation and he's been a model citizen ever since that arrest. Getting kicked off the Syracuse football team and having to suck-up his pride, travel halfway across the country and play Division II football has humbled him. He's not the young man caught on camera leaving an apartment with stolen electronics. Now he's ready to put some game film linked to his name.
“If that wouldn't have happened like it did, who knows where I'd be right now? It's all in God's hands, that's where I leave it at,” Walls said. “I don't look at coaches or anything, it was all in God's hands. He didn't get drafted, there was a lot of baggage and questions about if he could play at this level, but he ended up getting an undrafted rookie free agent deal with the Jets.
After the journey he's had, Walls is just happy to be here.
“Getting drafted or not getting drafted doesn't matter. When you get a chance, an opportunity you have to make the most of it. This is a second chance for me, I'm not going to mess it up,” Walls said. “This is a chance that almost wasn't here, you know? I'm with the Jets and I'm able to play football and be in the NFL. This is a great chance for me.”