Texas Native Walker Gets His Dream Job as a College Coach
Check the list of Nebraska's modern-day football letter winners from the state of Texas, and you find 84 names - from Kelvin Clark in the '70s to Broderick Thomas in the '80s, from Aaron Taylor in the '90s to Keyuo Craver from the most recent decade.
Ten Texas natives have, in fact, become Nebraska football All-Americans, and 17 have become all-conference players, including the likes of Rick Berns, Turner Gill and Demorrio Williams.
Yes, the eyes of Nebraska have smiled on a treasure chest of Texas talent that creates a mountain of memories.
But one player always will have a special place in the hearts of Nebraska's most intensely loyal fans - Kenny Walker.
A Crane, Texas, native, Walker is in a league of his own in terms of sheer inspiration because he had to overcome the greatest odds -- coming to Nebraska as a solely recruited deaf player that willed his way to a first-team All-American and a three-year pro career with the Denver Broncos.
Last week, we caught up with Walker to get an update on some good news this fall:
In September, you joined the Gallaudet University football staff in Washington, D.C., as the defensive line coach for an NCAA Division III team. Having coached at the Iowa School for the Deaf for so long, tell us why this opportunity is so important for you and your family?
I have wanted to help out the Gallaudet University athletic program for a long time. As the national leader in higher education for the deaf and hard of hearing, this is an excellent place to coach and make an impact. I want to help our student-athletes improve their communication skills on the football field but also off of it. I want to share my professional playing experience with them and help prepare them for life after college. I am still fairly new to the area so I am still learning the ropes here. My family lives in Northern Virginia now so for me to be here in the District of Columbia is great because I am closer to my daughter and son.
Does joining a school with the world's greatest reputation for serving deaf and hard-of-hearing students meet a career goal, and is it a place that you can see yourself staying for the rest of your professional life?
I feel this is a great place to be a coach and a professional. I am currently working part-time at the University but I would welcome a chance to be a full-time employee here. This is a type of place where you can grow professionally and as a person. I know some of our players may look up to me as a role model, which is flattering. I want them to see that their dreams can come true just like they did for me.
Will Shields, your Husker teammate, Kansas City all-pro and one-time NFL Man of the Year, insists his all-time greatest thrill in college was your Senior Day. He said Husker fans gave you the loudest "Roar of Silence" he's ever seen. Does it surprise you that your special moment is his favorite memory?
I never knew that story about Will. I am moved to learn about that now. I am thankful to the Nebraska faithful for that reception I experienced back on Senior Day. When I look back on that day it reminds me of the tough road I had to take to get to that moment. The University of Nebraska helped me so much with my communication skills that, in turn, helped me become a better person.
Your autobiography - Roar of Silence - tells the Kenny Walker Story. For those of us who haven't read the book, tell us what you consider to be the core points communicated.
My goal when I wrote the Roar of Silence was to share my experience being a deaf football player in a hearing world. I wanted to show other people how they can overcome their personal life struggles or adverse circumstances. For me my hurdle early on in life was dealing with being deaf and being accepted in society. Hopefully, others can read my book and apply my experience to what they are going through, and maybe it will help them.
Who inspired you most in your life and who continues to inspire you now?
The person who has inspired me the most was my former high school coach, Ricky White, at Crane High School. He opened the door for me as a deaf player and showed me where it could take me. Currently, Coach Tom Osborne inspires me. I can't thank him and the University enough for what they did for me. I received a nice message from Tom after my announcement here at Gallaudet University, and I am thankful for his kind words and his support and for being my coach in college.
Besides Senior Day, what's your all-time favorite Husker memory and why?
Actually, one of my favorite Husker memories is the first time I ever saw the University of Nebraska on television. It was the 1984 Orange Bowl when top-ranked Nebraska went up against No. 5 Miami. I was an early teen at the time and had never dreamt of playing for Nebraska yet. But I will always remember the first time I saw the Scarlet and Cream uniforms and the 'N' on the helmet of the players. Nebraska made a great comeback in that game and even though the Cornhuskers came up short, I will never forget that game. Years later, I saw a poster at my high school, and it was from the University of Nebraska. There was a picture of a kicker, and my memories immediately jumped back to that game.
Take us back to your days when Nebraska recruited you in Crane. How did you know that Lincoln would be the right place for you, and what other schools did you consider besides Nebraska?
The University of Nebraska was the only school open to my deafness and me. Most of the schools I looked at it didn't accept my deafness. This was before the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 so it was hard to find a school that would be open to the deaf. When I had my interview with Nebraska I learned about the different programs they had to offer me, and I was sold. It was at Nebraska where I learned American Sign Language (ASL). I grew up using Signing Exact English (SEE) as my first language. SEE is a sign language system that represents literal English.
You always had someone who signed for you when you played at Nebraska. Do you think you could have played longer than five years in the pros if the support had been similar in the NFL and the Canadian Football League?
That's a tough question for me. I never wanted to talk about the communication problems I was having at the professional level. The NFL/CFL teams I played for believed I could communicate without an interpreter. It was tough for me to understand the team meetings at the pro level because of the communication issues. So could I have played longer with the right communication lines set-up to help me? Probably.
What's the hardest lesson you ever learned as a person, a player, a husband or a father and why?
Acceptance. A single mother raised me when I grew up in Texas. I was the sixth of seven children (I have three sisters and three brothers). I was born hearing but lost my hearing when I was two because I contracted meningitis. My mother taught me to be a better person and rise above others that may look down on you. She prepared me for the real world and helped me to become more accepted in society. I owe a lot of gratitude to her.
Voices from Husker Nation
Great story on Kenny Walker! I was among the thousands of Husker faithful on that memorable day that gave Kenny his "roar". It gave me great pleasure to be able to show a great player and person how much he was loved and appreciated! Bill Holman; Denver, Colorado
The Kenny Walker story should remind everyone about what's really the most important aspect of all Nebraska Cornhusker sports programs - programs that are designed to help young men and women develop into the best people they can be. I was a big Kenny Walker fan when he played football, and I am an even a bigger fan of him now after reading your update. Scott Smith, Omaha, Nebraska
Despite the loss to Texas, I had a great time returning to Lincoln to see Nebraska show the world why we have the best fans in college football. We all died a little Saturday, but we will never question why Nebraska is such a special place. And reading the column on Kenny Walker really drives that point home for me. I grew up a lifelong Husker fan and a lifelong Denver Bronco fan. I just wish the Broncos had given Kenny the same kind of support that Nebraska gave him because there's no doubt in my mind that he would have been able to play even longer in the NFL. My hat is also off to Eric Hagg. Mack Brown may have said that his offensive players need more tackling drills to prevent something like Hagg's punt return from happening again, but give Hagg some credit. He made people miss and showed a lot of skill through all that traffic. In fact, he was so good on the record return that it makes me wonder if he should get a look as a return man. Ri Edwards, Yuba City, California