Growing up in San Diego, Daniel Walsh learned two letters almost before anything else.
“Everyone knows LT,” he said.
L for LaDainian and T for Tomlinson, the all-time touchdown scorer (54) and rusher (5,263) in TCU history and two-time NFL rushing champion.
“When I was a kid growing up, watching LT get in the end zone at Qualcomm Stadium, I always looked up to him,” Walsh said. “Oh, my gosh, this guy is the man in San Diego. MVP.”
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Now when he goes back home, Walsh can say he did something LT did — start for the Horned Frogs.
Walsh opened at one of the receiver spots when TCU played at West Virginia last week, finishing with a team-high four catches on a team-high six targets. It was a reward for consistently strong practices by the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior walk-on.
Daniel Walsh lettered in lacrosse and football in high school. He missed most of his senior season in football with an injury. He enrolled at TCU for school before opting to walk on in football.
But also a message from the coaches to an inconsistent receiving corps. TCU receivers had 17 drops in the first four games, according to a count by Pro Football Focus. Against Kansas, coach Gary Patterson said none of the outside receivers had a good game.
More than halfway through the season, veterans Emanuel Porter, Desmon White, Ty Slanina, Deante Gray and Jarrison Stewart have yet to catch a touchdown pass, although Slanina has missed time with injury. Running back Kyle Hicks leads the team in catches.
“One of the things I told them, the whole group, and I told them it was not indicative to Daniel Walsh — bottom line is, when a walk-on is a starter, what does that say about the rest of the group?” Patterson said. “You’ve got to call it the way you’ve got to call it. We need consistency. We need guys to catch balls. We need guys to block.”
The coaches gave Walsh a chance to do that last week, and he gave them four catches. That was as many as he had all season in a reserve role.
For him, the start came out of nowhere.
“I was just trying to keep my head down and work as hard as I can, and if the chips fall my way, then that’s how it’s going to go,” Walsh said, speaking to reporters Tuesday during the weekly football press conference. “But it was good to see. It definitely felt good being out there starting.”
I’ve seen plenty of guys before me do the same thing when they come off an injury, come back and just fill whatever role is expected of them. I wasn’t expecting to start or be a star or anything like that.
TCU receiver Daniel Walsh
Last season, Walsh didn’t play at all. He spent the year recovering from a foot injury.
“I’ve seen plenty of guys before me do the same thing when they come off an injury, come back and just fill whatever role is expected of them,” Walsh said. “I wasn’t expecting to start or be a star or anything like that. I just wanted to come out, whether it’s special teams, offense, whatever, and just do whatever the coaches asked me.”
The layoff and recovery followed a sophomore season in which Walsh had built trust with his work on special teams. The year before, as a freshman, he had been named the scout team MVP, like another player he admired.
“Josh Doctson started his career on scout team here, and when we really became close is when he won the award for scout team player of the year, the year before I got here,” Walsh said. “The year after that, I had a good year on practice squad and I got the same award. We kind of bonded over that. I saw him have the year he had, I was just kind of like, ‘Wow, I want to do what he’s doing.’ ”
4Catches for Daniel Walsh last week when he made his first career start, at West Virginia. It led the team and equaled his season total going in.
Walsh was Doctson’s guest at the NFL Draft in Chicago last year, when he was drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins. When Doctson trained in San Diego to get ready for the draft, he stayed with Walsh’s family.
“I’m a completely different player than he is, but he definitely helps me out with on- and off-the-field issues, just staying focused and focusing on school and stuff like that,” Walsh said. “He’s been a great role model for me.”
For Walsh, that’s been the case with TCU players for a while.
“Just growing up with that influence from LT and seeing them play in the Rose Bowl, once I visited — which was purely for school; I had no athletic connection to TCU whatsoever before I visited — I was like, I want to come here,” Walsh said.
He said he was inspired by Bart Johnson, the receiver from Brownwood who scored TCU’s first touchdown against Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl.
“I just said, ‘I think if I work as hard as I can, I want to try and be like him.’ ”
Last week was a start.
TCU vs. Texas Tech
2:30 p.m. Saturday, ESPN2