When Shari Cassingham tells neighbors about her son, Shane
Walton, soccer star turned football player for Notre Dame, she
usually gets the same response. "They'll ask, 'Oh, is he the
kicker?'" Cassingham says. "I have to tell them, 'No, he likes to
Indeed, Walton is striking a blow for strikers everywhere. Since
giving up collegiate soccer in November 1998 for a Rudy-like shot
at gridiron glory, Walton, a 5'11", 186-pound junior, has become
a starting cornerback. Through last Saturday's 45-14 victory over
Navy, he led the Fighting Irish with two interceptions and had
made 23 tackles, eighth most on the team. "I enjoy soccer," says
Walton, "but I love football."
Purdue quarterback Drew Brees found that out in the Boilermakers'
23-21 loss to Notre Dame on Sept. 16. After getting an earful
from Walton, who's an ardent trash talker, Brees fired a pass
over the middle late in the first quarter, only to have Walton
pick it off and race 60 yards for a touchdown. Not since the
celebrated Western of the 1950s have the words Shane! Come back!
been uttered so plaintively.
Two years ago Walton heard similar pleas from his soccer
teammates after he had decided to switch sports. As a freshman he
had been Notre Dame's best player, scoring 10 goals to earn
second-team All-Big East honors. His coach, Mike Berticelli,
predicted Walton would become an All-America and go on to a
career in Major League Soccer. Walton, however, had his heart set
on football and playing in front of 80,000 fans.
He was Division V all-state at cornerback in his senior season at
the Bishop's School, a private school in La Jolla, Calif., but no
major school tendered him a football scholarship. Enter
Berticelli, who made an offer Walton couldn't refuse: Come play
soccer on scholarship at Notre Dame, and I'll talk to football
coach Bob Davie about giving you a tryout in the spring. Six
weeks after soccer season ended, Walton joined the football
team's winter conditioning program. In spring practice he
impressed Davie with his footwork and ability to anticipate
plays--attributes sharpened, Walton says, by his soccer
experience. He also showed he could deliver some punishment. "He
won me over because he'll hit," says Davie, who gave Walton a
During two-a-days in August 1999, however, Walton strained his
right hamstring and played sparingly. Then, in January,
Berticelli died at age 48 of a heart attack. Despite the
setbacks, Walton kept working on his football dream and was named
a starter for this year's season opener against Texas A&M.
Against Nebraska a week later, he got his first interception,
picking off Cornhuskers quarterback Eric Crouch in the third
Walton knows that by giving up soccer he's risking his only
chance at a pro sports career. "You have to follow your heart,"
he says. "This is what I wanted to do. I didn't want to play
soccer if my heart wasn't in it. I'd be letting down the team. I
wouldn't be giving it my all."
Besides, there are stereotypes to break. When Stanford lined up
for an onside kick during a 20-14 loss to the Irish two weeks
ago, Walton was among those sent out to man the front line. A
soccer player on the good-hands team? Wait until Cassingham tells
COLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG