Sam Burnham, Curator
When a young man stepped out on to C.E. Hamil Field to take up the task of playing offensive line, they were actually taking up the task of convincing Coach Rick Walker that they were up to the challenge. That is the predicament I walked into in spring practice of my freshman year.
Over the next three years I learned technique, formations, fundamentals, assignments, and discipline. But that all composes just a fraction of what I learned while playing guard for Rick Walker.
He preached “mental toughness.” The weight room and the practice field could condition our bodies but if our minds weren’t tough, we would quit when things got tough. We learned that toughness pushing him all over creation on a seven-man sled. We learned it “popping pads.” We learned it by doing agility drills. We learned it by stepping with the right foot, getting low, delivering at the point of impact, driving through our blocks, and returning to the huddle to do it again. And we learned it by repeating these things until we were exhausted and we had to force ourselves to do it again. “If you can’t get to that linebacker, we can’t run Belly. And we’re gonna run Belly, so you better get there.”
He was a mountain of a man. He stood at least a head higher than most of his colleagues. He had broad shoulders and enormous hands. I remember being in the weight room while some players were trying to improve their maximums on the bench. He walked into the room and stopped when saw one of them struggling with 315 pounds on the bar. One of them jokingly challenged him to join them and suggested a “300 Pound Club” t-shirt was on the line. Walker took his place on the bench and then effortlessly rattled off three reps and placed the bar back in its place before sitting up and announcing “you owe me 3 t-shirts.”
But the true measure of the man was in his faith, character, loyalty, and dedication. He was our Fellowship of Christian Athletes leader, a role he served in for 37 years. During his career he coached multiple sports, notably football and girls basketball, in addition to his regular teaching duties. He operated as an educator, a coach, and a mentor. He was bold and honest. The memories shared by his students and players have poured in since the announcement of his passing. There has been a consensus that Coach Walker positively impacted the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men and women.
He was known for being tough. He was a strict disciplinarian who didn’t waste time looking for the gentle way to say something. He demanded your best by telling you to “get your head out of your butt.” But he was also the guy who led the singing during our FCA rallies, boldly belting out “beep-beep, toot-toot, nana-nana, waka-waka.” There was a time for seriousness and a time for silliness and he excelled at both.
I’ve got a lot of great memories of him. But I think the best one comes from one of the last games of my senior year. He was giving us instructions on the bench between possessions. After he finished what he had to tell us, he looked me straight in the eye and told me, “you’re doing a good job for me out there tonight.”
Now this mighty man of faith has moved on to his reward. The world is better because of him. My prayers are with his family.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire