Next Generation: Nebraska OT signee Chris Walker protects what he cares about — on and off field
Land of 10 has embarked on a series of Next Generation stories, a project that aims to bring readers insight into the Class of 2017 signees. These stories will run during the offseason. Today’s story is on Chris Walker, a 3-star offensive tackle from Nebraska.
LINCOLN, Neb. – There is the Chris Walker he lets you see, and the one he doesn’t.
The one he lets you see is about 6-foot-6, 275 pounds and likes to wear hunting shirts, blue jeans and boots that clack in the hallways of Lincoln East High School.
There are things this Chris Walker likes to talk about, and things he doesn’t. The Nebraska signee will talk about football, how much he loves playing offensive tackle because he gets to pave the way for his teammates and protect his quarterback. But he won’t talk a lot about his feelings or why he wants to join the Marines after college.
He speaks precisely. Never rambling or saying too much.
“As you can see,” says Ryan Fitzgerald, Lincoln East’s offensive and defensive line coach, “he doesn’t give much away.”
Which is by design, Chris’ father, David Walker, says. His only child has always been that way. He’s that way at home, too. And it sheds a little light into the Chris Walker you don’t see.
The one he’d never tell you about.
He’d never tell you about Mariah, the 20-year-old horse he’s been taking care of since he could walk. His father says he treats her like a puppy, taking it upon himself to feed her every day and brush her on weekends.
He’d never tell you about how many aquariums he’s had in his room, or the pet reptiles, guinea pigs, tarantulas, dogs and chickens he’s taken care of in his life. Pretty much anything but a snake, his dad said. That was his mom’s rule.
And he’d definitely never tell you about the only time he’s ever been in trouble, according to his father. The time, as a high school freshman, he shoved a senior in the hallway after Chris saw the guy picking on a student with disabilities. It turned into a scuffle and Chris’ only trip to the principal’s office.
The two sides to Chris Walker make him who he is, and they both explain why, and how, he became so dominant at a high school not known for churning out Nebraska scholarship players. The part of him that drives his passion for football is why he ended up getting a late offer from the school he always wanted to play for, and the loyal and reserved part explains why it was so hard for him to accept it.
If you ask his father, the two parts of Chris Walker make total sense. They coexist for one simple reason.
“Chris is a protector,” he said.
The one you see
In the world of recruiting, a world overrun with self-promotion and star ratings and competing egos, Chris Walker couldn’t be more out of place.
He hasn’t been dreaming of playing college football since he was a kid. He doesn’t eat, sleep and dream of making the NFL one day. Football wasn’t on Chris’ radar until his first offer from an NAIA school, Peru State, his sophomore year of high school.
“I didn’t really realize I could play until (the offers) started coming in,” he said.
Despite decades of planning fall Saturdays around Nebraska football, the Walkers aren’t big football people. David Walker never played. And growing up, it looked like Chris wanted to play soccer more than football.
He was a defender. And he liked it.
“I was pretty decent, too,” Chris said of his 7-year career protecting the goal.
But David thinks football became the focus for Chris when he was 12 years old, the year they went to a Nebraska summer football camp.
The Nebraska offensive line coach at the time, Barney Cotton, saw how big Chris was for his age, how well he moved and how hard he worked, and told Chris he had some talent. Later that weekend, the camp participants toured Nebraska’s locker room, then walked down the tunnel onto the field.
“I remember walking out of the locker room, and he was big but he wasn’t tall enough to reach the horseshoe,” David said. “So I lifted him up and he slapped it like all the players do before games. And when we were walking through that tunnel he turned to me and said, ‘I want to do this, Dad. I want to play here.’”
By the time he was a senior at Lincoln East, Chris had become one of the best players in the state. He was rated the No. 2 player in Nebraska by 247sports and No. 99 offensive tackle in the country, two numbers Chris didn’t really care about. Lincoln East’s offense revolved around running behind Chris at right tackle. And the defense was geared toward helping Chris get to the quarterback from the defensive tackle spot.
“I have stickers I give the guys for different things, and I couldn’t keep track of how many he should’ve had,” Fitzgerald said of Chris’ senior season.
As an offensive tackle, Chris says he had more than 60 pancakes last season. On defense, he finished with 7 sacks, 60 solo tackles and 1 blocked field goal.
“Some of the guys he would try and block would get out of his way, honestly,” Fitzgerald said. “He’d have to look for contact.”
Walker never showed much outward interest in playing college football. His mentality was: If a team wanted him, they’d come to him. So he never sent a letter or email to a school or coach to ask them to check out his Hudl tape. He didn’t look for recruiting camps to attend on weekends. And the sole reason he created a Twitter account is because coaches kept asking him to so they could message him.
“Just (coaches) wanting to talk to me and ask about my feelings and how I’m feeling about things and all that stuff, I didn’t want to do that,” Chris says of the whole recruiting process.
So Chris committed to Wyoming in November 2016. He liked coach Craig Bohl and Wyoming, and it was that simple.
But things became complicated late in the recruiting cycle in January 2017, when Walker got a call from Nebraska coach Mike Riley, saying the Huskers liked what they saw in his film and wanted to offer him a scholarship.
On the surface, that was Walker’s dream scenario.
“But it was hard, it was hard for him to go back on his word. He lives and dies by that,” David Walker said.
Chris gave it a week before he told Nebraska his decision, mostly because he thought Wyoming deserved at least that much. Chris visited Nebraska’s facilities, then eventually flipped to his hometown school on Jan. 16.
“I’ve got nothing against Wyoming,” Chris said. “It’s a great school and all that, but I didn’t grow up wanting to play for Wyoming.”
Carson Walters played quarterback on the same team as Chris for 4 years at Lincoln East. And he has a pretty good idea what Nebraska will be getting.
He says the Huskers are getting a hard worker. A guy who sets the tone without saying anything. And they’ll be getting a guy who will protect, no matter what.
“It was a relief knowing he was on my blind side protecting me,” Walters said. “He took care of me on that field.”
The one you don’t see
There’s this video David saw recently at a school event.
In the video Lincoln East students were asked a variety of questions, and eventually the question pops up that David remembers vividly:
“Of everyone in the class, who would save you from a burning building?”
And one by one, the students answer:
“It’s just – it’s so cool,” David says. “He’s got a heart that’s just huge.”
That first showed for David back when Chris became interested in animals when he was a kid. David and Chris’ mother, Lisa, are divorced, but David lives just outside Lincoln on some land. And Chris has always shown a soft spot for the chickens, horses and barn cats on the land.
“He’s had to scale back quite a bit to be an athlete,” David said. “But it’s dedication. It’s every day. And I think the structure of taking care of so many animals helped on the dedication part for sports.”
The closer to Chris you get, the more he opens up, say people who know him best.
“He’s not as serious and badass as he might be viewed as,” says Fitzgerald, who has coached Chris in some capacity since elementary school.
Chris does, in fact, have a softer, funny side Fitzgerald has seen a time or two. Like the time Chris walked into the locker room before practice, took some of Fitzgerald’s clothes and walked around pretending to be Fitzgerald.
There’s a video of it out there Fitzgerald hasn’t seen yet.
“He’ll probably show it to me after he graduates so I don’t make him run or anything,” Fitzgerald jokes.
The guys on the football team listened to Chris, says Walters, the quarterback. And it wasn’t just for how hard he worked on the field, he said. It was for how generous and serving he was off the field.
“People looked up to him,” Walters said. “They looked up to him as someone that people wanted to be like.”
Chris is part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Lincoln East and goes to meetings every Sunday. He’s involved in his church, and instead of parties he and his friends shoot trap or hunt turkeys and pheasants. And when he has nothing else to do he works on his 1988 Ford Bronco, which he restored himself.
“He’s made his own road,” says David.
A path he and his son will soon share, though, is the Marines.
That’s been a dream far longer than football, Chris says. His father was in the Marines. His grandfather was in the Navy, his uncles in the Army. If you ask Chris, he’ll say it’s just something he’s been interested in for a while.
“I’m just thinking that’s one of the best ways I can spend my life,” he says.
But his passion, his father says, is far greater than that.
Chris already has friends in the Marines. When Lincoln East doesn’t have scheduled workouts, he’ll work out at the U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station in Lincoln and lift weight with friends. And Chris has always talked about how much he wants to be an officer in the Marines.
David is admittedly a little hesitant letting his son join the Marines, but he’ll support him.
“But I’m a dad. I want nothing to happen to him,” he said. “But how proud could I be? What he’s accomplished so far in such little time, it just puts me to shame.”
It does, however, make sense to David. It seems like the natural progression.
First it’s the horse. Then it’s keeping an eye on Walters’ blind side at Lincoln East. Then playing at Nebraska for a few years.
You can call it different names, but in the end Chris has been doing the same thing all his life.
“You know, he loves defense,” David says. “He likes smacking people. He likes the challenge. He likes getting after the QB. But you ask his QB about it, you ask anyone, Chris is a protector. And that’s what the Marine Corps does.”