The three-year love affair between the University of Notre Dame and Darius Walker came to an end Thursday afternoon.
The junior running back, who has been a fan favorite ever since committing to the Irish in January 2004, announced at a press conference in South Bend, Ind., that he would be foregoing his final year of eligibility and declaring for the NFL Draft.
"I just really feel like it's right for me," Walker said at his press conference. "I wrote down the pros and cons and feel like it's the right thing for me to do at this time."
Walker leaves Notre Dame with 3,249 career rushing yards. The Buford graduate was on pace to break the storied program's all-time rushing mark of 4,318 yards if he would have come back for his senior season.
Instead, he heads into the great unknown. Many NFL Draft experts were surprised of Walker's decision and said he wasn't a lock to even be a first-day pick, much less a first-round one.
Though the all-time, single-season touchdown leader in Georgia did have perhaps the most impressive game of his collegiate career against LSU in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the Irish getting hammered 41-14, Walker ran for 128 yards on 22 carries (124 in the first half) against a very fast, very good Tiger defense.
"I thought he played the best he has played, and I've seen him five or six times this year," NFL.com senior analyst Gil Brandt told the Chicago Tribune. "(But) I don't think he'll be a first-day pick. He's a guy who's probably somewhere in the bottom of the third, fourth round. He's a good player. I don't know if he's a great player."
"They're going to miss Darius," former Notre Dame running back and current radio commentator Allen Pinkett told the South Bend Tribune. "I'm surprised by this. No wonder he ran his butt off in the bowl game. That was the best he ran all year long.
"He obviously has gotten the advice he needed to make the move. I wish him the best of luck. The pro game is a different game, but I think he has three qualities necessary to play on the next level: the ability to run the football, the ability to catch the football and the ability to block, which is going to be the most important."
Walker doesn't seem fazed by the talk that he is too small or too slow to be an early draft pick or have a productive NFL career.
"I think I can do it all," he said at his press conference. "I don't want to sound conceited or whatever. I feel like I've been able to show what I can do. I can run the ball, catch the ball, block, everything that a running back is supposed to do.
"I feel like I've been able to get better in every aspect of my game from year to year."
He also said: "Forever my dream was to play pro and go to the NFL."
No matter where Walker is drafted, he will definitely be missed in South Bend, where head coach Charlie Weis loses his top quarterback, his two top receivers and now his three-year starting running back.
"On Tuesday, Darius Walker and his parents informed me of his intent to make himself eligible for the NFL Draft," Weis said in a statement released to the media. "He guaranteed me he would graduate from Notre Dame in the near future. Although disappointed, we wish him nothing but the best."
Walker said that while training for the upcoming NFL combine he will take 15 hours this semester, which will leave him four classes short of graduating.
Walker becomes the second Buford product in recent years to declare early for the NFL Draft. Former Florida State receiver P.K. Sam elected to go pro after his junior year with the Seminoles and was selected in the fifth round by the New England Patriots.