Walthall's play takes a leap with improved work ethic

Sep. 13—Wide receiver Jalen Walthall was a Texas state champion in the triple jump as a Manvel High senior in 2021.

Wide receiver Jalen Walthall was a Texas state champion in the triple jump as a Manvel High senior in 2021.

Three weeks ago, he was implored to take a leap in his Hawaii football career.

"I got into him a little bit and, he would say deservedly so, " UH coach Timmy Chang said of urging Walthall to be more diligent in his training and preparation. "Just going about being a professional and the accountability in trying to be the best. I told him : 'You've got to handle your business.'"

The change in Walthall was immediate.

"The thing I like most about what he did was he responded correctly, " Chang said. "When you challenge a player, it's based on their response. The next day, when we were in the office, he was in the film room with us. It was not a normal offense or receiver meeting. We're meeting as a (coaching ) staff, and he's sitting with us. (Quarterbacks Brayden ) Schager and Jake (Farrell ) always sit with us, and Joey (Yellen ) sits with us a lot. We'll have (running back ) Tylan (Hines ) come in, some of the guys come in. And (Walthall ) came in that week. He was sitting in those meetings. It wasn't just a one-time thing. He kept responding correctly. And he's had better weeks of practice since then."

Every day, Walthall catches footballs fired from the JUGS machine. After practices, he runs routes. Every catch is secured only with his hands, usually with the thumbs and index fingers forming a diamond-shaped target. "When you get used to doing it, it becomes muscle memory, " Walthall said.

Walthall did not play to open the season against Vanderbilt and Stanford. "First two games, I guess it wasn't my time, " Walthall said. "But I got my time last game. Coach believed in me and felt it was my time."

Against Albany, Walthall mishandled the first pass his way. Then on a crossing pattern, Walthall seized the football from linebacker Ori Jean-Charles' grip for an 11-yard gain. Later, with cornerback Kevon Angry grasping his jersey, Walthall made a one-handed catch for a 34-yard touchdown.

"We practice it every day, " said Walthall, who celebrated with a back flip.

Chang said : "We think he's a great player. And the more he stays on it and does good stuff, the better we're going to be."

Walthall appeared to be destined to play college football. "My parents had a football in my hands before I could walk, " Walthall said. "I really feel I was born for this. I love everything about the game. I feel I live for this. My family knows it. I'm trying to take it as far as I can for my family."

After a standout senior season at Manvel, Walthall received—and accepted—an offer from then UH coach Todd Graham. But Graham resigned on Jan. 14, 2022, and Chang was hired eight days later. Walthall then revved the search engine.

"I found out who Coach Timmy was, " Walthall said. "I learned his history, like what he did when he was here. I found out he was one of the college passing leaders of all time. That's crazy. Who doesn't want to be in a system with a coach like that ?"

When Chang fully implemented the run-and-shoot offense this year, Walthall recalled thinking, "That's perfect for me. I'm a receiver. We like throwing the ball around the yard."

In his rare free time, Walthall goes bodyboarding at Sandy's. Walthall said he follows Chang's advice on dodging powerful waves, a strategy also used when trapped between on-rushing defenders.

"He tells us to duck dive, " Walthall said. "That's the term he uses for us to dive under the waves. It's like diving under the wave of defenders."

Chang said : "Get underneath, get close to the sand so the waves don't grab you. (Receivers ) use the same thing. Get under the tacklers. Don't take those unnecessary hits. Get under the crashing wave of tacklers."