Walkon Walker Earns Time in Spotlight
Sept. 22, 2001
By Mason Kelley
Walking on to a football team with the storied tradition that Washington has can be quite intimidating, requiring much hard work and undying determination. Senior Ken Walker has these characteristics and has used them to jump from a walk-on linebacker hoping to play on special teams, to a fullback who will compete for starting time this fall.
Over the course of his career with the Huskies, Walker has been a versatile player. He is the only player since former Husky linebacker/tight end Reggie Davis to start a game on both offense and defense over the course of his career. Walker received his first start at linebacker in 1998, filling in for the injured Marques Hairston. Due to injuries to the running backs, Walker was moved to fullback during fall camp in 2000, where he has played since.
Walker enjoys the switch to fullback, but is glad that he received the opportunity to play linebacker because he can use his defensive knowledge as an advantage over his competitors.
'I definitely prefer fullback to linebacker,' says the 6-foot-1, 230-Honolulu native. 'I think that I have more of an opportunity to play and contribute there. Playing defense helped me to understand the defense's mentality and allows me to get a jump on different schemes they may use.'
Walking onto do a major-college program can often be frustrating. Walker, however, uses his walk-on status as a motivational tool. He says that the challenge of overcoming his walk-on status and potentially earning a scholarship is what keeps him on a tough conditioning program. Walker spent the entire summer lifting in the weight room, putting himself in a position to succeed on the field in the fall.
Attending a out-of-state school like the University of Washington without a scholarship has been made easier for Walker by the support of his family. His father, Merle, is a Green Beret and a sergeant major in the army. His Mother, Katsue, is a U.S. Naval clinic clerk. Walker's first exposure to football came while emulating his older brothers, Takeshi and Masaru, as they played football growing up.
'I think I came from a great family,' he says. 'My brothers showed me the ropes. Whatever sports they played, I played. They did their thing and let me tag along with them. My dad is the one that makes me work hard - he is the enforcer of the house. We had to live by a lot of rules growing up but they have helped me out in the long run.'
It is those rules, the product of a military upbringing, that have given Walker the self-discipline necessary to succeed at the Division-I level. As an Army brat, though, Walker was forced to pack his bags and move around the nation many times.
'I was born in California but I only lived there for six or seven months, then I think we moved to Okinawa Japan for about a year,' he recalls. 'After that we moved to Washington, North Carolina, California, Texas and eventually I ended up in Hawaii. I feel that I am very well traveled, perhaps more than most players.'Walker's travels allowed him to experience different cultures required him to develop the ability to adapt and make new friends, all qualities that made the adjustment to college much easier.
Over the course of his travels, Walker has learned that it is important to give back to the various communities in which he has lived. There are two moments that stand out as he looks back over some of his recent volunteer experiences.
'Going to Children's Hospital and helping the kids make t-shirts and paintings was a lot of fun and great for the heart,' he says. 'I also helped out talking to elementary and middle school students about the importance of reading. I tell them how much I had to read and how much I continue to read in an attempt to stress how important reading is.'
For all of the joy Walker felt in giving back to the communities that raised him, there was no greater moment of pure joy than the Huskies' dramatic 34-24 Rose Bowl victory over Purdue in January.
'The Rose Bowl was awesome,' he says. 'I have trouble finding words to describe how I felt, it was all so overwhelming. There were all of those people in purple and gold.
'Some gold was for Purdue, but I don't like to think about that,' he adds with a smile.
While winning the Rose Bowl may have been the greatest team accomplishment of Walker's career, there are some personal achievements that he holds more dear. Interestingly, both moments came as a defensive player, despite his preference for offense.
'The best moment of my career came when we played against Nebraska in 1998. I knocked down the fullback and caused a fumble. He was about 240-250 pounds and I was only weighed 220 pounds at the time so it was a real boost,' he recalls. 'My second-favorite moment also came that same year when I knocked out the Utah State quarterback. I got a penalty for it, but it was totally legal in my opinion.'
Walker has paid his dues at the University of Washington, and understands perhaps better than the majority of scholarship players that nothing in the football world comes free.
'As a freshman, my high school coaches told me to go to all of the special teams meetings,' he says. 'That is the way you earn your time on a Division-I program, especially as a walk-on.'
Walker heeded his coaches' advice, and had vaulted past special teams play to the starting fullback position entering this fall when he pulled a hamstring.
'It has been a long struggle,' he says, perhaps referring to more than just the injury. 'It's my senior year - my turn to start - and I have this injury holding me back. It's frustrating but I will get by.'Walker's positive attitude, stemming from a father's lessons and a family's love, give him the energy needed to rebound from any setback and become an impact player in 2001 for the Huskies. Walker's focus for this season is to repeat the success that the team shared last season.
'My main goal is to get another Pac-10 championship,' he says. 'Hopefully we can top last year's season. We would love to go 11-0 and get that bowl win.'
Personally, Walker just wants to be on the field. For a person that has traveled as far and overcome as many obstacles as Walker, every goal is attainable.