Photo: Kell Walker
#AFAN (Air Force/Army/Navy) stories: My series is about more than academy football players. These stories are about future officers selflessly committed to serving their country during a seemingly endless war on terrorism. There are only 0.5 percent Americans making up the military. Throughout our history Cadets and Midshipmen have answered the call to serve in times of war, but this is a generation of volunteers.
--- “I get to work daily with heroes that joined the military AFTER we were attacked on 9/11, AFTER the war started in Afghanistan and AFTER the war started in Iraq. I would like to think I’m that brave, but I’m not so sure."
-- Phil McConkey, 1979 Navy grad and New York Giants Super Bowl champion
“I didn’t think the military was for me when I was recruited, but I’m fortunate I came here. My family situation was a broken home. I came from poverty. When I visited on my recruiting trip, I saw the brotherhood. I saw I could earn a degree and have a better life for myself and my family.”
— Kell Walker, sophomore season, 2017
By TOM SHANAHAN
The promising future Kell Walker envisioned through West Point is coming into focus with graduation approaching. The lightly recruiting running back was offered a chance to play Division I football, a free education and a guaranteed job upon graduation.
“When I get to graduation, I know it will break generational curses in my family,” he said. “I’ll feel proud that I actually went to the academy … and that I did it.”
He has been grinding a step at a time, and there is no denying emotions are set to burst on graduation day, May 23, 2020.
“I’m the first in my family to attend college, so this is a huge game-changer,” Walker said after practice this week. “Graduation is getting s getting close, but I don’t like to look at the finish line. I’m not there yet. I don’t like to count the days because every day is a new day. Even though there is a routine here, it’s never the same day, never the same emotions. I don’t take any day for granted. I wake up and I get through the day.”
The next chapter of his final season has the Black Knights (2-1) returning home to face Morgan State (0-2) on Saturday at Michie Stadium from a two-game road with high drama. The Black Knights took No. 7-ranked Michigan to double overtime before falling 24-21 and beat UT San Antonio despite starting quarterback Kelvin Hopkins missing the game with an injury from the Michigan game.
Walker, who spent a year at the Army prep school out of Decateur (Ga.) Lakeside before his 2016 admission to West Point, has been producing since his freshman year. His class has turned around the fortunes of Army’s program, ending a streak six straight losing seasons as freshmen and aiming to post a fourth consecutive winning season as seniors.
Although Walker says he doesn’t “look at the finish line,” that’s not quite true. He knows very well how to head for the finish line otherwise known as the end zone.
Last week, with sophomore quarterback Jabari Laws making his first career start as the backup to Hopkins, Walker was both a calming influence for Laws and a spark plug on the scoreboard.
“We try to build our offense around trust first,” Walker said. “We had confidence in Jabari he would get the job done at quarterback and he had confidence in himself. When we out there, I looked at him and told him, ‘As a senior slot back, I got you. I’m here for you today. Stay calm and stay poised and run up the numbers.”
On the game’s first play from scrimamge, UTSA’s defense gambled the new kid would be quick to give up the ball to the fullback or the slot backs. Instead, he read the defense, cut off left tackle and veered down the left sideline for a 34-yard gaine to the Roadrunners’ 41.
After fullback Connor Slomka was stopped for no gain and a personal foul was walked off against UTSA, Walker took the baton with the finish line in full sight. He scored on a 26-yard touchdown run. He finished with five carries and two touchdowns, scoring in the fourth quarter on a 16-yard run for a 24-7 lead.
In 39 games over four seasons, he has 1,471 yards with an average carry of 6.5 yards and 10 touchdowns and three multiple-touchdown games.
In Walker’s first Army-Navy test, he carried the ball 16 times for a game-high 94 yards to help the Black Knights win 21-17 in Baltimore. The victory ended a 14-year losing streak to Navy.
In last year’s Army-Navy Game, Walker’s 51-yard run on the Black Knights set up the game’s first touchdown in a 17-10 victory. Army’s only other touchdown came off a turnover as Navy’s defense slowed down Army’s run game and threatened an upset.
“I prepare for every game to stay as healthy as possible to get my body right,” he said. “I try to be a leader for my position group the best way I can. Every time I get the ball I want to do something. I don’t get the ball as much as I’d like, but I want to be a selfless player. I just want to make sure we get in the end zone.”
Passing through phases in life can send the mind into a time warp. In some ways, the recruiting trip from Decateur to the stone fortress campus on the Hudson River was a lifetime ago. In other ways, it feels like yesterday.
The finish line is closer every game, every day.
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I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055
Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
— Book on Michigan State’s leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty’s untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; “History writes people out of the story. It’s our job to write them back in.”