Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Playing with something to prove

Walt Aikens had a successful showing at the Senior Bowl and looks to impress NFL scouts on his pro day

Thousands of football players walk onto the gridiron every Friday and Saturday, but only a select few get the opportunity to play on Sundays. For players in major conferences, getting noticed by NFL scouts is simple, but for players such as cornerback Walt Aikens from Liberty University, gaining recognition is a little more difficult.

“Regardless of where you’re at, football is football,” Aikens said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to go out on the field and perform. I mean, of course I felt like I belonged there, and I really tried to turn some heads coming from Liberty. … We play the same ball every week and go out there and try to beat our opponent and play our hearts out. If you can play, they will find you.”

Athleticism — Walt Aikens’ size has NFL scouts intrigued. Photo provided

Athleticism — Walt Aikens’ size has NFL scouts intrigued. Photo provided

After being named the Big South All-Conference team in his senior season and Big South All-Conference second-team in his sophomore and junior seasons after transferring from the University of Illinois, Aikens was invited to play in two college senior all-star games — the Senior Bowl and Medal of Honor Bowl.

Aikens credits his transfer from Illinois as the turning point in his young career.

“It helped me humble myself,” Aikens said. “I had to reevaluate some things. I had to really get in touch with myself and God. At a big school you can get kind of complacent if you’re doing really well. It’s easy to say thank God for everything and if things are going good, but when things are going bad, you have to stay relying on God. And that’s what I did. I relied on God, and he got me through the situation. And he just refocused me, and I had to come out here and play if I wanted to be where I am today.”

Both the Senior Bowl and Medal of Honor Bowl are used as opportunities for college football players to display their talents in front of dozens of NFL scouts and coaches.

“It was a great experience,” Aikens said. “I was able to talk to guys from all around the country. You don’t have time to be nervous or anything, especially coming from a small school. You have to go out and prove yourself everyday and show them you can play with these guys.”

Aikens said that all 32 NFL teams showed some level of interest in him, and he had the opportunity to talk with dozens of coaches and scouts.

“Talking to all the coaches is kind of nerve-racking, because you’re talking to so many of them you can barely get a break,” Aikens said. “You might have a meeting with one team, and then as soon as you come out you expect to have a little break, but then another team is coming out and grabbing you.”

Despite a strong performance during Senior Bowl week, Aikens did not receive an invite to the NFL Combine, which he has used as motivation for his pro day March 4.

“It’s not the end of the world to me,” Aikens said. “I still got to keep moving forward. Every day is a blessing, and (not being invited is) just something I didn’t get, and God is gonna show me His light in another way, and I’ll have to go another direction.”

With an influx of taller and bigger cornerbacks in the NFL, Aikens believes this gives him an advantage heading into the NFL Draft.

“I feel the 2014 draft is a draft for corners because of Richard Sherman and what some of the other bigger corners are doing,” Aikens said. “A lot of teams are looking to imitate that style of play and incorporate that within their defense. So coming out as a big corner at this point is the best thing because it is a hot commodity.”

Aikens also mentioned that he had been in touch with former Flames Mike Brown of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chris Summers of the Minnesota Vikings, who provided encouragement and tips about their experience in the NFL.

Aikens hopes to be the seventh Liberty football player in history to be drafted when the 2014 NFL draft is held May 8-10.

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