A CONVERSATION WITH DAVID WALKER - PART ONE

David Walker is in his second season as running backs coach with the Colts. Walker started his coaching career at Carol City (Miami, Fla.) High School in 1994. He then coached running backs at Syracuse, his alma mater, from 1995-2004. Walker served in the same role with the University of Pittsburgh from 2005-10. This is the first of a two-part visit with Walker.

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What was your best sport growing up?  For some people it might not have been football.

"It was football.  I played it since I can remember.  I enjoyed basketball and baseball, but football always was the deal.  I started off experimenting with all the positions but offensively, I always was a running back.  On defense, I was a lineman, then a linebacker and I went into the secondary.  I punted, but I never played anything on offense except running back.  It was a natural position for me, and I would not have been at home in any other place on offense." 

How were you on instruction as a player?

"I think I was coachable.  I don't recall causing any problems for my coaches.  I tried to learn and do my part for the team.  Consistent messages were always sent, whether it came from my father at home or from the coaches I played for.  The message was that it was all about the team and how you fit in.  I believe that, and I still believe it.  It was a great message to learn at an early age, and it is some of the most valuable instruction you can have.  Everyone has a job to do.  You should do your job to the best of your ability and not worry about what anyone else is doing."

Who was the first true football influence you ever had?

"My father, Ike, definitely was my first influence.  He was the influence in the house where I grew up and in a lot of things outside the house.  As far as watching someone play on television and saying, 'I would like to be like him someday,' it was Tony Dorsett.  I was a big Dallas Cowboys and Tony Dorsett fan growing up.  In my high school years and that stretch of time, I'm a New York guy, so the Buffalo Bills were big for me.  They started that run with Jim Kelly taking them to four Super Bowls, and I was a big Thurman Thomas fan.  I was also a huge Barry Sanders fan.  He may be the only player where guys can't duplicate what he did on a football field.  A lot of guys are good and have their own style and do their own thing, but it's hard to find a guy who could duplicate what Sanders did on the field.  He truly was unique, and I don't think there will ever be someone who has his same style."

Was there ever a person who tried to talk you out of playing football?

"No one ever tried that with me.  I always knew it was a contact and collision sport, but that never stopped me.  Fortunately, I never was hurt or anything like that.  No one ever said they didn't want me to play.  To the contrary, I always had the support to go out and play and do what I wanted to do.  Playing organized football was a lot safer than playing in the yard with no pads on.  By the time I put pads on, my mom was happy.  There are stories like that where people try to talk you out of something for whatever reason, but that did not apply to me.  I was just urged to do my best and fit in within the team concept."

Talk about yourself as a player.  How would you characterize yourself?

"I was probably one of the more competitive guys on the teams I played with.  If you're keeping score, it's important to win.  I'm very competitive.  I was a hard worker.  I think I was a tough player.  I don't know that I was the most skilled guy, but you were going to have your work cut out for you if you were going to beat me that day.  That was my mentality as a player.  I wanted to be tough and hard-nosed.  If you were going to tackle me, you were going to be in for a day's work."

Why did you choose the college you chose?

"I went to Syracuse, and proximity played a lot into the decision since it was close to home.  My family and friends could be a part of the experience with me there.  The fit at that particular time was right in terms of where the program was.  It really had just been re-established.  My senior year in high school was coming off 1987 when Don McPherson was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy and the team went 11-0-1 and tied Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.  I was getting recruited off of that.  I liked the coaches, and it was a fit for me from a player's standpoint, how I fit and what they could do.  From a school standpoint, at that age I thought the schools were all the same academically – Syracuse, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, Wake Forest.  I thought I would get out of it what I put into it.  The football standpoint really drove my decision.  It was the fit, the football and the proximity to home." 

Were you aware of the running back tradition at Syracuse?

"I learned the history pretty quick.  In the recruiting process, they started dropping the names – Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Larry Csonka, Joe Morris, Robert Drummond, Mike Owens.  You knew you were jumping in something pretty big, and I was happy to be a part of it.  The tradition at the running back position at Syracuse did not scare me, and I wanted to do my part to maybe continue it."

What was your best collegiate experience?

"If I had to pick one, it had to be my last game.  We were 9-2 and ranked in the top 10 in the country.  We played a really good Colorado team in the Fiesta Bowl in my last game.  That was pretty rewarding, to play a great team in a bowl game to finish your career.  In the last game of the season, we lost to Miami.  They were number one in the country, and they beat us in my last home game, 16-10.  They went on to lose to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in the national championship game that season.  We came back after that defeat and beat a talented Colorado team.  That's probably the best feeling, walking off the field for the last time and knowing you had done a good job and had a great season.  It was special also knowing it would be the last time I would wear a Syracuse uniform.  That crossed my mind when I got dressed for the game."

Does it still mean a great deal to players to put on a uniform?

"Yes.  It represents, whether it's for high school, in college or in the NFL, membership in an exclusive group.  We're all prideful guys.  I think anyone who does anything athletically, probably starting at the high school level, you do it because you enjoy doing it.  You do it because it's competitive and for the camaraderie you have with teammates.  It gets to the point where you don't want to let anybody down.  When it comes to putting on a uniform, you are playing for yourself.  You also are playing for your family, your friends and teammates.  You also are playing for those who played in the program before you did.  Being a member of a team, that's pretty special.  It's special in all sports.  It helps characterize individuals, how they respond to the moment or a season or a game.  In my case, the life-long bonds created by football are unique.  Being a part of the Colts organization is very special."

When did you first think about a career in football after your playing days?

"I thought when I was in high school that I would want to coach some day.  I thought my perfect job would be a high school coach and a guidance counselor.  In my mind, that was what I went to college to get accomplished.  I wanted to affect young lives.  If I were a coach, I could influence players.  If I were a counselor, I could affect the student body.  What a great fit that would be for my profession.  I'm working in that profession now.  The path that got me here, I never would have dreamed that coaching at this level could happen.  I think everyone dreams of playing at this level.  Maybe some people dreamed of being a professional coach, though.  Sometimes, it is still surreal for me."

What is your favorite quote on football, leadership, etc. that has shaped your career the most? Explain how/why/when you found it and how you have applied it.

"One I keep in my room is one I read from a high school basketball player who was talking about his team.  This was only about five years ago, and he made a point about his team being unselfish.  I stole it after I read it in the paper, he said, 'No egos, no excuses, one goal, win a championship.'  In all my meeting rooms, I have that statement.  That sums up what you're trying to get accomplished.  It's straight-forward.  I took it from a high school basketball player who was describing his team to a newspaper reporter."

How much of coaching is coaching the sport and how much of it is teaching young men?

"It's a combination of both.  You're doing both all the time, whether you think you are or not.  When you're on the field or in the meeting room, how you present yourself and interact with the guys is a combination of both.  We're coaching football, but we're asking men to buy into a system every single day they are here.  There are certain rules on a team.  You're always trying to develop the mind and the man.  You're trying to get guys to make right decisions, whether it's in life or football.  You want him to make positive decisions when things are going well.  When things aren't going so great, football is a microcosm of life.  You want guys making right decisions whatever the circumstance.  We're coaching and teaching all the time.  We're trying to lead them in football and in other directions in their life.  That's what coaching is.  I don't see a separation between the two.  Guys will leave this sport at a young age.  They are learning in high school and college, and they still are learning while they're in the NFL.  I guarantee a guy like Peyton Manning is still learning something about the game of football.  He still can achieve something different, and he's one of the most accomplished players who ever played here.  You take a guy like that and say, 'He's still learning.'   There's plenty I can do for a guy like Delone Carter in terms of football and life.  The same is true for Donald Brown and others.  That's why we do what we do as coaches.  We all love leading men."  

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