Written by Rick Stroud, Tampa Bay Times
TAMPA — His earliest memories are about football. And not just any game. The aftermath of the Bucs winning Super Bowl 37 is seared into his mind.
Brandon Walton was about two months shy of his fifth birthday at the time, but already a big fan of the hometown NFL team.
“I’m going to tell you personal story. I’ve actually been a Bucs fan my whole life,” said Walton, a former Seminole High School star. “That first Super Bowl … we went outside after the game and all the car alarms are going off and the people were screaming and stuff like that. Going from there to now being able to play for my hometown team, it’s a dream come true.
“But daily, I have to keep contributing to the team to make sure I stay here.”
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Walton has a good chance to continue living his dream as an offensive lineman for the Bucs.
Undrafted out of Florida Atlantic, Walton originally signed with the Bills in 2020. The Bucs claimed him off waivers from the Steelers and he spent last season on their practice squad.
Walton has opened some eyes in training camp. Not only is he in the mix for the vacant left guard spot vacated by Ali Marpet’s retirement, but he also is working as a backup left tackle.
“He’s tough and it’s a wide-open spot,” head coach Todd Bowles said. “We’ve just got to pick and choose our spots, who to put in there and get a significant amount of time so we can see everybody and make an educated decision. But he’s tough, he comes to work every day, he’s in early. He has good technique, he has a lot of strength, so it’s going to be a fight.”
Walton has always been willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. But when then-Seminole coach Chris Miller first discovered Walton as a sophomore, he was an oversized, somewhat overweight kid.
“The first thing you notice is how big he is,” Miller said. “But he was soft. He didn’t carry his weight the same way. You could see the athleticism. He played basketball and I noticed him that winter when he was on the basketball team. He played for us in the fall, but he was only a sophomore, and he was kind of a tweener. He played a little O-line, a little D-line, but we were a veteran group. He didn’t actually play a whole, whole lot. Physically he was still developing.
“But I was thinking, ‘Oh my God. He can move like a point guard.’ At that time, going into spring ball his sophomore year, is when he really made the commitment in the weight room. Physically, he was one of those guys who gets in the weight room and their body starts changing. They get addicted and he just became a freak.”
In fact, Miller remembers leaving the field house at Seminole one night and walking past the weight room. It was dark but he could hear someone grunting in the shadows.
“As I flipped the lights on, there’s Brandon Walton with two 75-pound dumb bells in his hand and he’s doing pushups and walking across the floor of the weight room in pitch black,” Miller recalled.
“I turned the light back off and said, ‘See ya tomorrow, Brandon.’ He said, ‘Bye, coach.’ And I knew right then that was somebody who was going to be in the NFL. That kid is going to the NFL.”
Home is where his heart is
Walton has always been a gentle giant, soft-spoken but extremely well-liked by his classmates at Seminole.
When he was a senior, Miller selected him to speak during a raucous pep rally before a Friday night football game.
“Brandon is this larger-than-life figure on campus,” Miller said. “We had a couple good years when he was there. I do this thing every year, the homecoming pep rally. We are in the gym, the whole thing. Whoever is the dude on campus, he gives the big speech and I introduce him. This year, it was Brandon. Everyone knows Brandon. And everyone knows, ‘Oh my God! Brandon is going to give this big speech and he’s going to blow the roof off this place!’
“I get up there and get everyone fired up. I introduce Brandon Walton and he gets up there. He looks at everybody and he just raises his hand and says, ‘Football!’ That was it and everybody went crazy.”
A Largo native, Walton has always wanted to work and play close to home. Despite being heavily recruited by programs such as Miami and some SEC schools, Walton’s dream was to play for USF, in no small part because it was in Tampa.
“At Seminole, we didn’t have a lot of foot traffic,” Miller said of football recruiters. “We’re a baseball school, you know? I’m on the phone like crazy. But all he wants to do is go to South Florida because he’s a mama’s boy. I can’t get (then-Bulls coach) Willie Taggart to answer the phone. I can’t get anybody at South Florida. But the first offer was FAU. That coach went to mama.
“Even though all the big-time offers came in — Miami and all the big ones — that one coach went to mama and waited for her. That was it. Brandon is a mama’s boy so that’s where he went. At the time, FAU was terrible so that was a surprise.”
Versatility is key
It worked out well for Walton. As a sophomore, Lane Kiffin took over the Owls and enjoyed some success the next three seasons.
“He came in and made the atmosphere very competitive,” Walton said. “We got good coaching. That’s why there’s a lot of guys from the Lane era in the NFL right now.”
Walton’s versatility may be what keeps him in the league. His athleticism allows him to play both guard and tackle positions.
“I played tackle in college and when I got to the league, I got trained at guard in Pittsburgh,” Walton said. “Coming here with Coach (Harold) Goodwin, he helped me with everything. I’m learning from a lot of people.
“It just feels good they trust me to go out in that spot. The more versatile, the better it is for me.”
Following a recent practice, Walton worked on his footwork during pass protection at left tackle with Donovan Smith.
“B-Wall, he’s very versatile,” Smith said. “To able to throw himself out there at left tackle and both guard positions is something you want. As a guy in this league, you’ve got to be able to play multiple spots. It’s good to be able to see him do that at high level and make a name for himself here.”