Gavin Walls stood in the Blue Bombers dressing room before the TV cameras, his cool shades shielding his eyes from the lights on Saturday, soaking up the sudden attention.
The rookie Winnipeg defensive end had just scored a pair of defensive touchdowns, helping the Bombers beat the Renegades 37-21 in a CFL game in Ottawa on Friday and a horde of local media descended upon him.
"I guess when you make you make a couple of big plays, that's expected," said Walls. "It's all right. No problem. You're all good guys, man, and I don't mind talk to ya all."
Screw in ankle
Funny thing is, if not for ligament damage to his ankle when he was in high school, Walls would have been a tailback or a wide receiver. Not one of the biggest off-season finds for the Bomber defence.
"I was a great wide receiver and I played a lot of tailback," said Walls, who had not scored a TD since high school. "I had hurt my ankle in my junior year and I went through a couple of tough months."
Surgeons inserted a screw in the ankle for about six months. But the injury led to his transition to defence. But first, Walls had to get his head turned around. While injured, his school work suffered.
"I had to realize that school came first in order for me to go to college," said Walls, who then picked up his grades.
But because he lost a year of eligibility due to the injury, Walls had to attend a junior college in Arkansas, where he shone. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Ripley, Miss., native then attended the 2003 NFL training camp of the Minnesota Vikings, then played for the Scottish Claymores of NFL Europe.
"I saw Gavin in NFL Europe two years ago," Bombers GM Brendan Taman said. "B.C. took him off their neg list and I put him on ours immediately. He was a pass rush demon. But a lot of people, including some of our staff, thought he was too small! Yeah, right."
Walls then wowed the coaches in Winnipeg's training camp and his play this year should earn him the nomination for at least the Bombers' top rookie.
"I don't know much about this league as far as nominees for rookie of the year or none of that," said Walls, 25. "But it would be nice. I'm just going to keep playing my heart out and if that happens, I would enjoy it."
Walls, in fact, did not even know if he has a bonus clause in his contract covering such a nomination.
Walls has recorded six quarterback sacks, 30 defensive tackles, returned a fumble 79 yards for a touchdown and an interception 10 yards for another. And he is still learning the CFL game.
"Believe it or not, I'm actually loving it," Walls said. "I've been taking one game and one play at a time and I try to keep those guys contained, and try to play the role of a veteran. All it took me was one game to get adjusted to the one yard off the ball and feeling a little free where I could roll up and go full speed."
Defensive end Tom Canada, last year's rookie nominee, admitted he hit a wall midway through the longest season he had ever played last season. And the fear was that Walls would also hit a wall this year.
"I don't know about guys in the past years here hitting a wall but I'm not concerned with that," Walls said. "I'm just trying to take it one day at a time and taking care of my body in the weight room, and try to stay healthy. So I don't see no wall. I've never hit a wall in my career so I don't know about these walls.
"I just try to keep the same momentum going and the same intensity. And I'm getting better every game."