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Know Your Giants: Center J.D. Walton

Posted Jan 27, 2015

Five-year NFL veteran J.D. Walton is in his first season as the Giants’ starting center. Justin Daniel Walton was raised in North Texas and was an All-America center at Baylor University. In 2010, he was a third-round draft choice of the Denver Broncos, for whom he started the first 38 games of his career (including two postseason games). But in the fourth game of the season, Walton suffered a fractured and dislocated ankle that forced him to miss the rest of that season and the following year as well. He signed with the Giants on March 13 and has been the team’s starting center since his arrival.

Q: Where in Texas did you grow up?

Walton: “North Dallas. Allen, Texas. We lived outside of Allen in a little town called Lucas.”

Q: Do you have siblings?

Walton: “I’ve got an older sister. She’s married now with two kids and is a teacher in the Dallas area.”

Q: What are your parents’ names and what did they do when you were growing up?

Walton: “My dad is Danny Walton and my mom is Donna Walton. They’re both schoolteachers. My mom’s a professor at the University of North Texas and my dad is an ag (agriculture) teacher at Denton.”

Q: I would assume that academics were stressed in your house?

Walton: “Yes, very much so. My mom’s side is all teachers and my dad is a teacher.”

Q: Are you like so many Texans who likes to hunt and fish?

Walton: “Oh yeah, big-time outdoors. I’m hunting and fishing whenever I get the chance. That’s what I do offseason, anywhere I can.”

Q: Were you a good student in school?

Walton: “I stayed out of trouble when I was in elementary school and high school. I never had to re-take any classes - I don’t think.”

Q: Were sports a big part of your life when you were young?

Walton: “They were. Growing up sports was huge - baseball, basketball, soccer. I didn’t even start until playing football until the seventh grade. Football came in late, but it stuck. I started growing, getting big. Once I made the transition into high school football is all I really played.”

Q: When you were young did you have a favorite sport?

Walton: “Probably baseball. I played third base.”

Q: Why didn’t you play football when you were young?

Walton: “I couldn’t tell you. We were busy all the time with baseball, basketball and soccer. Football was just never… it was fun and we watched it and would go to games. My dad graduated from (Texas) A&M, so we’d go down there to watch games all the time. When I was younger I just got into baseball and basketball and soccer.”

Q: Did you get to go to Cowboys games when you were younger?

Walton: “Yes. Unfortunately. Growing up my dad had a deal where he would take his high school kids and we would go park cars and go to the game for free, so we’d always go to home games.”

Q: When you went to A&M games, did you think, “This is cool, I’d love to be a part of this someday?”

Walton: “There’s no doubt. I loved going to those games. The atmosphere at A&M was unbelievable. As a kid, all of their history and the stuff that they have going on there was awesome.”

Q: When you started playing football in the seventh grade, what position did you play?

Walton: “I’ve been a center my whole life. Well, I played center until sophomore year of high school and then I started playing left tackle.”

Q: So they looked at you and said, “You’re an offensive lineman, get in there?”

Walton: “Yeah. I never got to play any fun positions or score any touchdowns.”

Q: Did you immediately like football?

Walton: “I loved it. All my buddies, we all played the same sports growing up and then we all got into football and we started taking it pretty seriously. I had a great group of buddies that were playing. It just took off from there. We all stuck together, hung out all the time. It was a blast.”

Q: What was your high school?

Walton: “Allen High School. We were pretty good. We made it to the playoffs every year and made the semifinals my senior year. I think they’re on their way to winning their third straight state championship this year.”

Q: Do they get to play the championship games in AT&T Stadium?

Walton: “Yeah - they were the high school that had the new $60 million stadium that they can’t play in this year.”

Q: How big was the stadium you played in when you were there?

Walton: “I think we had 14-15,000 every week, but then at the Cowboys’ stadium it was 25-30,000 playoffs.”

Q: Did you play in playoff games in Texas Stadium?

Walton: “Yes. That was awesome. We got to play in the old one, so that was neat. Very cool.”

Q: When did you start to think you might be able to play collegiate football?

Walton: “My senior year. I started getting a little attention and had a little bit my junior year. My senior year I came out and had a few offers and went to Arizona State and then transferred back to Baylor, so it was probably the end of my junior year and going into my senior year.

Q: Did you take visits?

Walton: “I think I went to Iowa State, Utah, Arizona State, Colorado State and somewhere else.”

Q: That’s a pretty eclectic group of schools.

Walton: “I committed to Utah originally. Then Urban Meyer left and went to Florida, so they never talked to me again. After he left there I committed to Arizona State.”

Q: Why Arizona State?

Walton: “I knew it would be a great place to go. They had sent guys to the NFL, and that was the ultimate goal. They had a good pedigree for sending guys in. They had a bunch of guys playing at the time - great school, great program, great conference.”


Q: Having spent your whole life in Texas, did you have a desire just to try something new and get out of the state?


Walton: “I thought I did. I got out there, didn’t like it too much and got back and Baylor, thank goodness, gave me an opportunity to come back there and I got started up there in Waco.”

Q: Did you play or redshirt at ASU?

Walton: “Redshirt, so after transferring I had to sit out a year. Then things got rolling my redshirt sophomore year at Baylor.”

Q: Was it difficult to sit out two seasons?

Walton: “It was rough. No one expected after my redshirt and transferring to Baylor that I could help out and play. The O-line coach at the time told me I wasn’t big enough to play in the Big 12. The next year I come back, he’s fired from the O-line and is coaching running backs. After that he was fired. Then it goes on from there.”

Q: Have you heard that a lot, that you’re not big enough to play?

Walton: “Yes. I have a hand-written note from the O-line coach that was at Baylor my senior year at high school that told me I wasn’t big enough to play in the Big 12. I carried that as a chip on my shoulder. He’s not coaching anymore. He’s not in the collegiate level, he’s in high school somewhere down in Texas. But that was always a chip on my shoulder. I felt like I had a pretty good attitude and showed out there on the field that I was able to flip a switch.”

Q: Once you started to play after two years off, you started every game…

Walton: Yes sir, the rest of my college career. I’m very proud of that. My goal going in there my sophomore year was to establish myself there and hopefully the Big 12 stuff comes and keeps on rolling. It’s so political right now. My second year I got second-team All-Big 12 and was a first-team AP All-America. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s one of those deals where I had a great coaching staff, a great O-line coach. They groomed me for the NFL. They did a pretty dang good job.”

Q: Baylor’s been good for a while, so were you on good teams there?

Walton: “No, I was there right before they got good. Hopefully, it was a building block for them. We didn’t go to any bowl games when I was there. The year we thought we were going to our quarterback tore his ACL in the fourth game. It was RDIII (Robert Griffin III). That was my senior year. It didn’t happen, but it has since I’ve left, so that’s something I’m proud of.”

Q: You talked about the group of guys that you had in high school. Was there a similar camaraderie with the line at Baylor?

Walton: “Oh yeah. The same group of guys I hung out with in high school I still talk to today, keep up with their families, we’re in each other’s weddings. The same thing goes at Baylor. I still have a group of guys that I talk to weekly and we’ve got a tight group. We keep in touch with each other and see how everything’s going.”

Q: When did you start to think that you could play in the NFL?

Walton: “After my sophomore year. I got lucky enough to play against some great D-tackles in college, a bunch of first-round picks. Seeing how I played against them and played well after my sophomore year I got a little confidence. I knew I was going to have the opportunity to play these guys two more times and they would help me out a lot by having good film against good players. That’s when I knew I would hopefully have a shot.”

Q: Who were some of the good tackles that you played against?

Walton: (Ndamukong) Suh, Gerald McCoy - I think he was the third overall pick. I had a bunch of guys, Ziggy Hood was at Missouri. Von Miller, he played at the end. Red Bryant was at A&M.”

Q: Did you have any idea that the Broncos were going to take you or what round you were going to go?

Walton: “No. I had taken trips to Denver and Atlanta, so I was hoping it fell like that. The O-line coach from Denver called me on the first night and I started getting all nervous, but he said, ‘I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’ So that kind of gave me an idea. I had all my buddies and all my family were over at the house and we got the call for the 80th pick.”

Q: Were you watching when your name came up?

Walton: “Oh yeah. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. It’s up there with a kid being born, a wedding. It’s one of those things where the hard work you put into it, your dream, it’s what you worked for the last four, five years. It’s all coming up to this one thing and somebody had enough confidence in you to draft you and bring you in. That was big.”

Q: What were your feelings going into your first pro camp?

Walton: “No doubt I was nervous. But luckily I had another rookie with me, Zane Beadles. I’ll never forget walking into the huddle for the first time. The center that they had in front of me (Dustin Fry) had two bad shotgun snaps and they threw me in there and I don’t think any of the guys talked to me until a few weeks after that. In the huddle I was on my own, the rookie. We had a bunch of old vet guys up there. I was the lone rookie at the time. I still talk to a bunch of those guys. We had a bunch of the same guys up there the whole time I was there. It was fun. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Just that experience, you’ll never forget your rookie year.”

“As a rookie you never know anything. You’re busting your butt and you’re screwing up and they’re yelling at you and then you get thrown in there with all the old guys that know what’s going on. It was an experience.”


Q: Once you proved you could play with them did they start talking to you?


Walton: “Yeah. I’ll never forget, a D-lineman kind of jumped and I put him down on the ground and it was a guy that played for like 10, 11 years. You generally don’t do that and it was one of those ‘I didn’t know any better’ deals. That kind of got me a little respect from them. Things just started, I started building a rapport with them and they trust you and you start making calls or fixing stuff.”

Q: Few centers come in and start 38 games in a row to start their career. Did you kind of prove to people that you could play and was it a tremendous source of pride that you were able to come in and do that?

Walton: “It was. And it’s also being very blessed, very lucky. Just busting my butt and having the opportunity to do it and then sticking there and showing that I can handle it and that the moment wasn’t too big. It was awesome looking back and then I broke my darn leg in 2012.”

Q: What happened?

Walton: “It was a draw play. We were in Oakland in the second quarter right before halftime. I went up on the linebacker, blocked the linebacker and the pile just fell down behind me on my leg.”

Q: Did you know immediately it was a significant injury?

Walton: “One hundred percent. Our right guard did it the year before in the last game of the season. I saw his turn the same way. I sat down on the ground, our trainer ran out there and I told him, ‘I know it.’ I said, ‘When I fell down I popped it back into place.’ He picked me up, we walked downfield, went and took an X-ray, it was broken. I had surgery a week later.”

Q: You refused to be carted off?

Walton: “Yup. It wasn’t going to happen. Carry me off, I don’t need a cart out there.”

Q: Did you have any inkling it would take so long to heal that you wouldn’t be ready for the next training camp?

Walton: “No. The most frustrating part is it was infected for six, seven months. Nobody ever knew anything. My bone wasn’t healing, nothing was said. It was a weird infection down there. I was back 95 percent - running, cutting, doing fieldwork, and it just started throbbing a little bit. I wasn’t used to that and I scheduled an ultrasound. They said there was fluid down there and that might be normal from getting things going again and pushing it while it was trying to heal itself. They were going to drain it just to make sure. They stuck the needle in my fibula and they drained it and it was green. I got admitted right then, had emergency surgery at 6 a.m. the next morning. Two days later I had another surgery to clean everything out again. They took out all the hardware.”

Q: When was this?

Walton: “It was in June. After sitting around from Sept. 30, I had surgery on June 15 and another one on June 17. They finally got everything out and it was just back to stage one. I got put on the PUP (physically unable to perform), got back on the active roster. They never gave me an opportunity to get my spot back; they were doing well.

Q: When did they release you?

Walton: “Wee 15. Pretty nice of them. My wife and me went to go see a movie and had a bunch of voice mails when we came out. The first voicemail I heard was one from a reporter who said, ‘Don’t worry man, you’ll find a job.’ That was the first thing I heard. So then we had to start dealing with that. I went to Washington for two weeks. I’m thankful for them picking me up. It was stressful. I hung out, showed that I could pass a physical and I could still play football. I was lucky enough that the Giants picked me up in the offseason and we’re here back rolling.”

Q: What did you like about this situation?

Walton: “Just the franchise. It’s a great franchise. I had a great opportunity to come in and play. The lure of being a Giant and having the NY on your hat, playing for this franchise, it’s what you look at. Everybody knows who the Giants are. The opportunity to put on that jersey and tell my kids one day, ‘Hey, your dad played there. I’ve got that helmet. I took snaps from Eli Manning.’”

Q: What do you like about playing center?

Walton: “You’re the guy that has the opportunity to help out with the other guys. You bounce a lot of stuff off everybody. I just feel like I fit in there and that’s my role and that’s where I’m supposed to be. I feel comfortable there.”

Q: You’re a Texas guy living in New Jersey. What has the adjustment been like for you?

Walton: “It’s a very, very big adjustment. There’s a lot of concrete up here. We’re not used to the hustle and bustle and the business and the rudeness, but we’ll get used to it. We’re getting accustomed to it. We’re getting more comfortable every day that we’re here. It’s just an adjustment period, another part of life you’ve got to adjust to.”

Q: What’s your wife’s name?

Walton: “Katie Walton. We went to high school together. She went to OU, I went to Baylor. She graduated and moved to Waco.”

Q: How many children do you have?

Walton: “We have one little boy. His name in Jace. He was born Sept. 29 last year. He’s a little stud.”

Q: Now that you’re established in the NFL, what are your long-term goals?

Walton: “Now it’s longevity. Get in there, do a good job, keep going for 10, 12 years. There’s no cap on it now. That’s the goal - be a part of good teams and do a good job.”