Aston Walter made his extra year of eligibility count. The sixth-year running back is our 2019 Rice Football Offensive Player of the Year.
Rice football running back Aston Walter carried the ball once during his junior year before an injury ended his season. He returned to the field for his senior season in 2018, setting career highs in carries and yards, highlighted by two breakthrough games in November, the first against Louisiana Tech and the next against LSU. 40 of his 64 attempts and 144 of his 254 rushing yards came in those two games.
At the end of that season, his brother Austin went on to the NFL where he spent time with the San Franciso 49ers and the New York Giants. Rather than hang up his cleats, Aston returned to South Main with unfinished business. He petitioned the NCAA for a sixth season, which was granted to him because of his one-game junior year. Once more in the midst of a running back room overflowing with talent, Aston went to work.
With aspirations to go into coaching when his playing days are through, he rededicated himself to his craft. “He’s really been a student of the game,” offensive coordinator Jerry Mack recalled prior to the Owls’ first conference matchup of 2019. Aston was the starter that day against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. He carried the ball 20 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. That was the first 100-yard game of his collegiate career. He also scored his first-ever rushing touchdown against a conference opponent that night.
Walter rushed for at least 100 yards in four of his next six games, only failing to reach the century mark in two games which he left early because of injury or sickness. As long as he was able to go, he carried the load for the Owls on the ground. Walter scored 10 times this season after never finding paydirt once in his first five seasons at South Main.
After all that time, Walter’s college career has come to an end. “It’s time. I’ve been here for six years. I’ve given a lot to this program,” Walter said, reflecting on Senior Day and his time at Rice. “Six years is enough.” His remarks weren’t made out of exhaustion, rather satisfaction. Walter fulfilled so many personal goals in his final season, but none meant as much to him as how things ended with three straight wins — one of which was sealed on a big run by himself.
“That’s why I came back for a sixth year, for moments like that,” Walter said, thinking back to that game-icing third and long scamper against Middle Tennessee. For one play, Rice football fans froze and looked at him. Walter didn’t care so much about the attention as what it stood for — a symbol to those coming behind him that hard work and strain can pay off. Storybook endings do come true.
Walter’s storybook ending came to a close with 145 carries, 771 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. He also added 11 receptions for 48 yards and two receiving scores. Not only was it the best statistical season of his career, Walter led the running back room once filled with hero-like figures who he looked up to. And now his younger teammates were looking up to him.
Even at the mountain top, Walter was his characteristic humble self.”It’s never about me, me, me. It’s about us,” he said with a smile, refusing to admit Rice football wouldn’t be where it is right now without his efforts, both on and off the field.
Offensive coordinator Jerry Mack synthesized what Walter meant to this team quite well. “When you got a guy like [Aston Walter],” Mack said, “when he talks people just listen, just for the simple fact they know he’s battled tested and he’s been through so much in his career.
That career ended in El Paso, Texas on the very field he lost his junior season. This time, instead of accruing another redshirt, Walter went out with a bang. He paced Rice with 149 rushing yards and one touchdown which came from 30 yards out. Things had finally come full circle. A fitting way for a player who’s career had transformed from a part-time role to a core offensive weapon.
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