Walters Leads Hurricanes To the 2001 National Championship

By  //  April 20, 2012


MATT WALTERS, second from right, and his University of Miami teammates presents George W. Bush with an honorary jersey during their trip to the White House to be honored as the 2001 national champions. Walters, who is now an engineer for Northrop Grumman in Melbourne, finished his college career with 186 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 49 quarterback hurries, 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. He played 48 games, 27 of which he started. (GETTY IMAGES)

BREVARD COUNTY •  MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Matt Walters, who will be inducted into the first class of the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame, jokes with his buddies about one day seeing the other side of 200 pounds.

It could happen.

The former Eau Gallie High, Miami Hurricanes and New York Jets defensive defensive lineman has been working out with coach Ed Donner and other friends on an informal basis.

His weight now fluctuates between 210 and 215 pounds. That’s a long way from the 272 pounds he used to carry on his 6-foot-5 frame.

“It’s just on an amateur basis and nothing too seriously,” said Walters, who graduated from Eau Gallie High in 1998.

“A couple of buddies were doing some rehab from injuries and they talked me into it. I keep joking with them about going down to 185 pounds.”

During that UM championship season, Matt Walters had 66 tackles eight tackles for a loss, 19 quarterback hurries, three sacks, one forced fumble and one interception for arguably the best defense in the history of NCAA football.

Walters, who majored in mechanical engineering at Miami and also was able to earn his master’s degree by attending summer school, still might be playing in the NFL if it weren’t for a nagging injury sustained during his senior year with Miami.

“I played through a groin injury as a senior,” said Walters, who lettered in football, basketball and golf at Eau Gallie.

“It was my final year and it wasn’t going to keep me off the field. But, it was bad and it hampered me in the NFL. It bothered me every day, and I had to fight through it. It felt like a hernia that I couldn’t get rid of. It was the type of injury that soccer players get, and it can be career ending.”

Drafted By the Jets

It finally healed about 1 1/2 years after he retired from the NFL.

“You can’t take two years off and go back and play in the NFL,” Walters said.

“I enjoyed the NFL, but battling the injuries got old. It seems minor, but it wears on you. It was frustrating because I knew I could play much faster, but I was held back. Part of me is relieved, but part of me misses the NFL.”

After finishing his college career with the Miami Hurricanes, Walters was selected by the New York Jets in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. He was the 150th overall pick.

Walters, who was born on Aug. 22, 1979, played in 11 games for the Jets during the 2003 season.

He had five tackles and one fumble recovery. Herman Edwards, the Jets coach, reluctantly cut Walters late in the 2004 training camp.

He later signed with the Miami Dolphins, but he did not play because of injuries.

In 2001, during his junior year at Miami, the Hurricanes were storming to what would be an eventual 12-0 record and a national championship.

A big play by Walters in a road game against Boston College might have preserved both the undefeated season and the possibility of a national title.

INT Preserves Perfect Season, National Championship 

With Miami holding a 12-7 advantage, Boston College quarterback Brian St. Pierre led the Eagles on a drive from their 30-yard line to the Hurricanes’ 9 with 1 minute remaining.

Pierre’s pass to the Miami 2 was intercepted by Walters, who ran 10 yards with the ball before handing the ball to Ed Reed. The free safety ran 80 yards for a touchdown to give Miami an 18-7 triumph.

“I remember that I got cut block and I popped up and there was the ball,” Walters said.

“I was in the right place at the right time. I wanted to run out of bounds, but Ed was calling my name and I knew it was his voice. It was the play of the year and an answer to the (Doug) Flutie Hail Mary against Miami a long time ago.”

The victory improved Miami’s record to 8-0 and the Hurricanes later defeated Virginia Tech 26-24 on the road to win the Atlantic Coast Conference title and a berth in the Rose Bowl to face Nebraska for the national championship. Miami forged a 34-0 lead at halftime and ended up winning 37-14 to clinch the school’s fifth national championship.

Walters had 66 tackles that season, eight tackles for a loss, 19 quarterback hurries, three sacks, once forced fumble and one interception for possibly the best defense in the history of NCAA football.

As a senior in 2002, Walters had 64 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 19 quarterback hurries and five sacks. He also earned Academic All-America status for the second consecutive season.

The Hurricanes finished the regular season with a 12-0 record and extended their unbeaten streak to 34 games.

Fiesta Bowl

Despite being a heavy favorite, Miami struggled in the Fiesta Bowl BCS National Championship Game against Ohio State.

An injury to star running back Willis McGahee hampered Miami in the fourth quarter.

Miami scored a touchdown in overtime, and it looked like the game was over when Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel’s fourth-and-three pass from the Miami 5 fell incomplete in the end zone. A late flag for pass interference extended the game and Ohio State scored a touchdown to tie it at 24. Ohio State eventually won 31-24.

Walters remembers Krenzel’s incomplete pass from a different angle.

“I saw his pass go through my hands,” Walters said.

“To tell the truth, even with the loss, it was the most fun I ever had. I was so tired. I couldn’t have gone through another play.”

Walters, who is an engineer for Northrop Grumman in Melbourne, finished his college career with 186 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, 49 quarterback hurries, 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. He played 48 games, 27 of which he started.

He played for Dan Higgins at Eau Gallie High. Paul Friel was his defensive line coach and the defensive coordinator.

“My tip for high school players is to practice hard,” Walters said.

“Some players think that, if they’re better, they don’t have to practice as hard. You can go from the best guy in high school to the worst in college. The same goes for the NFL when you become a scrub. If you practice hard, you play well.”

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