Spotting number nine amid 80 players geared up in red and black uniforms is not a problem for the average Dinos football fan -- running back Matt Walter will put on a spectacle for his fans. Known among many things for his impressive breakaways, Walter runs a 40-yard dash in a smoking 4.4 seconds -- you don't want to blink and risk missing a touchdown. Walter has gone 33-straight games, or two and a half years, without fumbling a football and has piled up more than 450 carries, 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns since then.
Walter will be playing his fifth and final year as the Dinos starting running back and his determination to bring home the Vanier Cup is full throttle. Despite the University of Calgary's heartbreaking loss to Laval at last year's Vanier Cup, Walter was able to keep his eye on the prize: playing CFL football.
Six Dinos football players were drafted during the annual CFL selection in May Â-- led by receiver Anthony Parker, who was picked third overall and went to the Calgary Stampeders. The Dinos had the biggest draft day of any CIS team with eight overall. It was arguably the best draft in Dinos history.
Walter, who was drafted 34th overall by the Stampeders, had a difficult decision. With various commitments like school, his final decision was to graciously defer the Stampeders offer.
"Draft camp was mentally draining, but so much fun at the same time," said Walter. "It was a really great experience and I am glad I got invited out to play, but at the end of the day, you have to stay true to yourself and start what you finish. I am not in the position to take time off school, which I would have to do if I became a CFL rookie this fall."
The experiences and opportunity to wow CFL coaches remains a priority for Walter. Draft camps allowed him to set the tone for future chances at playing in the big leagues which he fully intends to pursue after his final year of eligibility.
"I see myself as a tough player that can stick around and make some big plays, slowly work my way up and prove that I can play running back as a professional player in the CFL."
Just a day after the rigorous CFL draft camp ended, Walter was invited to Team Canada's final training camp, where the coaching staff would finalize a 45-man roster to compete at the IFAF Senior Men's World Championship in Austria in July. As a three-time Canada West conference all-star and a two-time Canada West rushing leader, Walter was an easy selection and would be a key component to Team Canada's success on the world stage.
"My body was pretty beat up at that point," said Walter. "I was physically and mentally exhausting myself, but I had to keep in mind that football doesn't last forever and living in the moment is the key to success if you want a career in football. All these amazing opportunities are once in a lifetime experiences that I wanted to make the most of."
After two weeks of training, Team Canada spent a week in Austria playing a game every other day. The Canadian boys defeated the Austrian hosts in Gratz, where Walter was named MVP. The team placed second overall in the world after losing to the United States -- the game drew a crowd of over 30,000.
After outstanding accomplishments over the summer, Walter feels redeemed and ready to win this year's national championship with the Dinos.
"Coming back this season definitely has a different dynamic. Twelve of our teammates who starred in the 2011 CIS final have either graduated, are moving on, or turning pro. It has left more than a few challenges and changes regarding the roster and definitely some adjustments to the playbook. But so far the start up to this season is looking great -- all the new players are really showing up."
With the loss of key players like quarterback Erik Glavic, wide receiver Nathan Coehoorn, Anthony Parker and offensive lineman Paul Swiston, the team has big shoes to fill and has to work harder to be successful and not to disappoint their fans.
In a press release, head coach Blake Nill called the season's total of 23 recruits "a deep class with plenty of talent in a variety of positions. I think overall, out of 5 this would be a 4 to a 4.5 recruiting class. We have some outstanding players and some kids who will be able to play right away."
Walter said in past years the team has relied on a few players to tie up loose ends. "This year our focus and our plays are based around unity over reliance," he said.
Fans can expect Walter to solidify the backfield for the Dinos. He will be key in creating a harmony between the offensive line and the new quarterback, Eric Dzwilewski.
"With the new guys we have, it's probably going to be a lot more serious and a higher tempo, focusing on smaller, faster plays instead of big ones," said Walter. "The team really needs to take advantage of communicating during practices so they can really come together in unison during game time."
As summer comes to an end, Walter returns to the U of C Dinos with a greater sense of perseverance than ever before. Walter's experience over the last few months has given him a level of prestige that has set a standard only the truly ambitious will reach.
"I have to pay many respects to my parents. They have always instilled a level of work ethic within me, which has enabled me to create a lifestyle that facilitates a balance of school, football and a career. What I learned from them has really grounded me and taught me to stay true to myself so long as I am working my hardest and doing my best."
Walter's level of persistence and determination will without a doubt filter through to his teammates in order to bring home the Vanier Cup in his fifth and final year as the Dinos's star running back.