Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Living in the Shadow of a Legend

Austin Walker is a redshirt sophomore safety for the University of Maryland Terrapins. He is not a star; he is one of the many players fighting for playing time and trying to impress his coaches. However, while Austin is identified by many names (which is no different from anyone else), he is best known for is being the son of Rick “Doc” Walker, a former Washington Redskin and Super Bowl winning tight end.

Austin’s dad, who is known simply as “Doc” in the D.C. area, played football in college at UCLA and was part of the Rose Bowl winning Bruins in 1976. In 1977, the Cincinnati Bengals drafted Doc with the 85 overall pick to start his career. After three seasons there, Doc went to the Redskins, where he would spend the rest of his career. As a tight end, Doc was a part of the Redskins famous offensive line that was nicknamed “the hogs,” and won a Super Bowl with the team in 1983. By the time he retired in 1985, Doc had played for nine seasons, six of which were in Washington. He also had caught 70 balls for 673 yards and nine touchdowns despite being used primarily as a blocker.

Unlike many children of football players, Austin does not have any of those stories about growing up in an NFL locker room and meeting all of the players. In fact, he never got to see he dad play football at all. This is because Austin was not born until 1988, three years after Doc retired from football. Instead, Austin grew up watching his father do what he does currently, serve as a football analyst for several different companies. Because Doc still is very involved in football, the fact that Austin never got to see his father play did not affect how much the game had an effect on his life. He still grew up following the game and the team that his father played for.

If you have ever been to areas surrounding the nation’s capital, you understand how big the Redskins are. Every member of the Washington Redskins is more or less larger than life, and it stays that way after one retires. This sentiment is especially true if you were on one of the Redskins’ three Super Bowl winning teams. Seeing that Doc qualifies for that latter category, he is viewed as a celebrity in our area for being a television analyst, as well as for having the Super Bowl XVII ring that he wears regularly. I remember when my dad found out, when I was in the eighth grade, that my new friend Austin’s dad was Doc Walker, he was a bit taken back. This is something that Austin has known for his entire life. Nothing short of winning a Super Bowl of his own would change that.

“The only time you really noticed it was when you went out into a public area. Whenever we would go to a Wizards game or something, we would always get mugged by 20 people before we would get to the damn stadium…Even in Virginia, it happens. Like for Alex’s (Austin’s brother) birthday, we went to IHOP and someone walked up to us. Someone always comes up and talks to Doc,” Austin said.

Austin did not start playing football until the ninth grade because of his dad’s wishes, but picked it up pretty quickly. While at Langley High School, Austin earned a reputation for being one of the hardest workers on the team and for basically living in the weight room. Austin was on the varsity team both his junior and senior seasons, but did not contribute as a junior due to injuries. As a senior, Walker recorded 93 tackles, four pass breakups, two fumble recoveries for touchdowns, one forced fumble, and a blocked kick en route to a 2006 Liberty District Honorable Mention.

When it came time for Walker to try and be recruited, Doc was an important part of the process. He helped make his highlight tape, and since he is the main football analyst for Raycom Sports to the ACC, he had many connections to the coaches Austin was trying to impress. Langley’s head football coach John Howerton knew Austin could play at the next level, but was thinking more along the lines of a division two program; however, Austin said that his dad’s opinion was that if he was going to play in college, he should try to play at the elite level. After having communications with the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, and UMd, Austin joined the Terps as a walk on.

Now that Austin is in college and on the football team, Austin is kept very busy. He has practices almost every day, along with daily tasks like studying film and his work out program. All of this is in addition to the normal school work that every college student athlete is expected to do. Despite the busy schedule, Austin and his father still keep in contact to discuss his football.

“During the season, I call him every Friday or Saturday before my game just to talk about what is going on,” Austin said. “He mainly just does a lot of listening. He knows that I basically know what I have to do, but I talk to him to just keep in touch and stuff.”

While, not the most gifted athlete, Austin’s work ethic is matched by very few. Whatever Austin goes on to do in his remaining years as a Terrapin, it is likely he will hang up his cleats for good afterwards. That work ethic and charm that has got him this far will certainly help him succeed in whatever his next step is. As a communication major, that step will most likely be in the direction of journalism and his father current profession. So you see, even though Austin might not be able to get out of Doc’s shadow, that might not be so bad.

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