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Buford's Walker makes NFL debut

Buford is back in the state championship game and Darius Walker is carrying the football again.

It was a good weekend for Wolves past and present.

The day after Buford won at the Georgia Dome to return to the Class AA title game, the school record-holder made his belated NFL debut with the Houston Texans.

Walker, who helped Buford to three consecutive state championships, didn't put up the eye-popping numbers that he did in high school, but it was still a very solid first game.

The former Notre Dame standout rushed for 46 yards on 16 carries and had six catches for 35 yards as the Texans (6-7) upset visiting Tampa Bay 28-14 on Sunday, keeping the Buccaneers (8-5) from clinching the NFC South.

"It was always his passion to play in the NFL," said Buford athletics director Dexter Wood, Walker's former coach. "To see him finally get his chance was great. Everyone here is excited for him."

Walker, who had been on the Houston practice squad until three weeks ago, got his chance against Tampa Bay when starting running back Ron Dayne re-aggravated a sore ankle in the first quarter.

"As the game went on, I started feeling more comfortable out there," Walker told the Houston Chronicle. "You stop thinking about, 'Oh my God, I'm in the game' and you start thinking, 'OK, this is what I have to do.'"

Walker did it all for Buford, breaking Herschel Walker's state season record for touchdowns in the 2003 title game victory over Charlton County.

That record has been surpassed this season and it was starting to look like Walker's success on the football field may have come to an end as well.

Walker declared for the draft a year early, but wasn't taken. The Chicago Bears released him during the preseason and Houston did the same, although he did get a spot on the practice squad.

With Ahman Green headed to injured reserve, Walker was finally promoted to the 53-man roster, but he still had to spend two weeks being inactive. Sunday was the first time he had dressed for a regular-season NFL game.

"It has been a roller coaster for him the last year and until now there really hadn't been any ups," Wood said. "I think most people in Buford didn't even know that he had been activated.

"I'm sure that in his wildest imagination he never thought he'd go undrafted. I know that I certainly didn't. I always thought he'd at least be a good third-down back in the NFL because of the way he can catch the ball. And he showed that Sunday."

But Walker had to wait his turn in Houston because of concerns about his ability to pass protect and hang onto the ball with the pounding NFL running backs take.

Walker, 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, passed both tests. Now he has three more games this season to show what he can do.

"With young players, it takes time to get adjusted, coming from college and not being 'The Guy,'" Texans tackle Ephraim Salaam, a former Atlanta Falcon, told the Houston Chronicle.

"Everybody has to come and start from the bottom up and he's got it now. Watching him work in practice, he's a different player than he was when he first got here and I'm proud of him."

SideBar: GWINNETT NFL PLAYERS

Week 14 update on NFL players from Gwinnett County:

Jeff Backus, OT, Lions (Norcross)

Started 108th straight game in 28-27 loss to Cowboys

Jason Elam, PK, Broncos (Brookwood)

Kicked two field goals in 41-7 victory over Chiefs

Stephon Heyer, OT, Redskins (Brookwood)

Got second start in 24-16 victory over Bears

David Irons, CB, Falcons (Dacula)

Played on special teams Monday night against Saints

Jon Stinchcomb, OT, Saints (Parkview)

Started in Monday night's game against Falcons.

Darius Walker, RB, Texans (Buford)

Had 81 total yards in 28-14 win over Buccaneers

Mansfield Wrotto, OG, Seahawks (Brookwood)

Inactive for 42-21 victory over Cardinals