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Walls not taking the bait from Baldwin

“I never even heard of him before we played them last year.”

Those were the words of Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, talking about fellow Pittsburgh native Darrin Walls, one of the highest-rated recruits to hail from the the area in 2006, two years before Baldwin would catch the eye of colleges nationally.

Even if you’re to believe that Baldwin had never heard of an All-American candidate in his backyard, you’ve got to wonder if the standout Pitt receiver is playing mental games with Walls, a defensive back he got the best of during last year’s match-up between the Panthers and the Irish, when Baldwin went for 142 yards on five catches and a touchdown.

“Everybody was telling me he was from North Hills or Woodland Hills -- I’m not even sure -- so I never even knew him before that time,” Baldwin said this week. “He didn’t really press that much, so I can’t really determine if he was physical from the pressing standpoint. He didn’t tackle me, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you that... I played a great game last year, so I circled the game on my calendar for this year and I plan to have a great game this time, too.”

If Walls is looking for bulletin board material, he certainly isn’t taking the bait.

“I’ve seen what he said,” Walls said Wednesday. “I really don’t care really about it. I know that I’m a different player from last year, and so is he. I don’t really talk much, and we’ll see a lot on Saturday.”

Walls’ junior season was a disappointing one, as he struggled to return to form after sitting out the 2008 season for personal reasons. Walls talked about how hard it was to watch from the sidelines the last time Pitt came into Notre Dame Stadium, when they walked away with an overtime victory.

“The year off, it was tough watching at home. But I kept my energy up and my kept talking to the guys, and my spirits didn’t get down too much,” Walls said. “I came up for the game, and it was tough watching knowing that I could have and should have been out there with my teammates. But yeah, I was down on the sidelines when the game went into overtime and it was tough watching, but I mean, I was rooting for my team, and we didn’t get it done, so it was tough.

Darrin was given a fresh start by the new coaching staff and has embraced it. Earlier this week, head coach Brian Kelly singled out Darrin for his work this season, and said he’s consistently graded out as his top cover corner.

“He’s been outstanding,” Kelly said of Walls. “He’s our best cover corner consistently. He’s played through injury. He’s probably been our most professional and locked-in player. I say professional from a day-to-day standpoint. He is very purposeful in what he does. He has been somebody that we can really point to in our senior class and say that’s mental and physical toughness. He’s displayed that each and every week.”

Walls was measured when commenting on the tactics the Irish defensive will take to slow down Baldwin and a passing game that’s yet to get up to speed with young quarterback Tino Sunseri. Taking his cue from the mindset Kelly and the staff are drilling into the players, Walls is trying to keep a level head.

“I mean, really just another game for me,” Walls said. “I’m just trying to go out there and help my team win, and we need to play well and we need everyone else to play well. That’s the mindset I have going into this game. It’s big because I’m from Pittsburgh, but the ultimate thing here is the big three.”

The “big three” Walls refers to is likely much needed win No. 3 for the Irish. If Darrin and his teammates walk away with that, Baldwin will likely know who Darrin Walls is after Saturday.