ORONO – Jermaine Walker was expecting to have a pretty lousy Monday.
After all the hype of the NFL draft came and went over the weekend, the University of Maine linebacker had neither been drafted or signed as a free agent. While teammates Montell Owens and Kevin McMahan planned to meet with the press Monday afternoon, Walker was going to have to face his disappointment.
“Most everyone had heard if they were going to make it or not (Sunday),” said Walker. “So I had a whole mess of things running through my head, and it was driving me crazy.”
The Washington Redskins helped fix all that. Walker got a call from the organization Monday morning, offering him a free agent deal with the NFL club. He’ll report to the team’s mini-camp this weekend.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said. “This is everything you dream of. As little kids playing football, Pop Warner, pee wee or whatever, this is what you dream of.”
Walker doesn’t have a contract, yet. He’ll go to mini-camp and see how it goes.
“I have to show them what they need to see, and I’ll sign after that,” said Walker. “That’s when they do the contract stuff.”
Washington became interested in Walker at a pro day at Princeton. The Redskins told him they liked the way he pursued the ball.
Walker, a 6-foot, 232-pounder from Teaneck, N.J., was an All-Atlantic 10 First-Team selection. He was a First-Team All-Star pick by the New England Football Writers Association and won the Harold Westerman MVP Award while being the Black Bears’ top defensive player.
The Redskins drafted another outside linebacker similar to Walker, but that news only motivates him.
“I’m a really competitive person,” said Walker. “There’s no way I’m going to let another person beat me out.”
Owens didn’t have to wait until Monday. In fact, while McMahan was being chosen by Oakland with the last pick of the seventh round, Owens was on the phone with Jacksonville.
“It was coming down to the last pick of the draft,” said Owens. “I got a call from the Jags while Oakland was on the clock. Kevin gets a call from Oakland while they’re on the clock. I’m looking at the TV while I’m on the phone with the Jaguars. I’m wondering if Kevin is going to be Mr. Irrelevant. I’m thinking This is going to be unbelievable.’ The Jags are trying to finalize things with me. Then Kevin’s name flew across the screen and the whole house jumps up. People were coming inside the house from next door. The Jags were like, We’ll have to call you back because there’s too much going on.'”
Owens reports to camp next week and will be there until late July.
The running back from Wilmington, Del., was ranked ninth in the Atlantic 10 in rushing yards per game with 77.9 and was 100th nationally for all-purpose runners. He finished with 11 touchdowns and 1,090 yards in 38 games over four years.
Though Jacksonville has other backs on the depth chart and drafted Maurice Drew in the second round, Owens feels he has a chance to earn a spot as their all-purpose runner.
“This is the best situation for me,” he said. “The Jags have Fred Taylor. The word is he’s pretty fragile. They really don’t have that every-down back. They’re looking for a guy that can come in and carry the load.”
Having three players drafted or signed by free agents is the most Maine has had since 1990 when Mike Buck, Justin Strzelcyk and Scott Hough were selected.
Jack Cosgrove says it’s a testimony to the hard work of McMahan, Owens and Walker but it also shows the kind of attention the Black Bear program has generated.
“It starts with maybe the fact that our program has grown so much in recent years,” said the Maine coach. “These guys have played in a lot of significant football games. You look at Kevin. He’s got a touchdown on his ledger against Georgia Southern as a freshman in a playoff game.
“He had the game-winning touchdown against Mississippi State. He’s got a touchdown against Nebraska. They’ve played in some significantly important football games in their careers.”
Cosgrove says these three have something special that has gotten them this far. Now they just need to take it another step. He points to the success of defensive back Brandon McGowan as an example. He was drafted by Chicago last year and found opportunity there.
“He’s a guy that hung in there and made the final cut,” said Cosgrove. “Then we’re looking up and in the middle of the year, he’s starting for the Chicago Bears. Those are neat stories that hopefully can come true for these guys.”
Also Monday, Quinton Porter, the former Portland High School and Boston College quarterback, signed a free agent deal with the Houston Texans.