Walk-ons wander on and off the football roster from season to season.
Some remain unseen on the scout team. Some make guest appearances on special teams.
Enter Charles Walker, walk-on extraordinaire.
The former star running back at Louisville St. Xavier has gone from a Kentucky walk-on to a clutch wide receiver and the Cats’ new punt returner.
The sophomore, who has played in every game since he came to UK, makes it hard to keep him off the field.
“A guy that really brings a great passion and energy every day,” Coach Mark Stoops said of the 5-foot-11, 203-pounder.
“One of those guys, an inside slot receiver that’s crafty, that has that finesse about him. He gets open. He makes competitive plays when given the opportunity.”
Walker hasn’t just been going in when a starter gets gassed. Early this season, he had catches on two key fourth-quarter drives and hopes to be in on plenty more during his UK career.
“I’m happy where I’ve gotten and I want to do more, so I’m just working every day,” Walker said.
He’s Mr. Reliable.
“Those kids that make plays every day and gain the trust of coaches are going to be the ones out there,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has said of Walker, who has five catches for 61 yards this season.
It’s just hard work, and when you get your chance, you’ve just got to provide, and I think I’ve done that. That’s why I’m getting chances now.
And Walker’s done much of his playing this season with a wrist injury, his offensive coordinator noted.
“He’s got great energy. I mean, the kid is a tough kid,” Dawson said. “He’s got very reliable hands. I mean, he’s had a wrist injury for the most part of the year, so he’s had to wear that brace. … A really tough kid, tough-minded kid. Good energy. Just a good kid to be around.”
The near-4.0 student in finance kind of looks like a guy who might be your accountant one day. Not super tall or super bulky.
Not super anything necessarily, except that he’s super at almost everything he does, including being an honors student who played baseball and basketball at St. X.
“Charles is a guy that does everything he’s asked and has a workman mentality,” backup quarterback Patrick Towles said of Walker.
Walker shrugs off all the kind words.
He’s just glad to have the opportunity.
“It’s just hard work, and when you get your chance, you’ve just got to provide, and I think I’ve done that,” he said. “That’s why I’m getting chances now.”
Walker is getting so much work on so many different parts of the team that his head spins a little bit during practices.
His recent promotion to punt returner (three returns for 22 yards) has made it especially confusing for the player who is on almost every special teams unit.
“I’ve been returning punts and I’m on punt team, too, so it gets kind of confusing during that drill,” he smiled. “I’m going from one thing to the next.”
The special teams units seem to be a perfect fit for Walker.
“Really, special teams is just down to want to, especially since there’s not much ‘team’ about it,” said Walker, who has six tackles for that unit this season and nine in his career. “You just gotta go get the ball or make your block. To be a special teams player, you have to just want to do it.”
Rivalry week always was fun in Walker’s house with mom Jane graduating from Kentucky and his dad, David, graduating from Louisville.
“Always a house divided thing,” said Walker, who went back and forth between being a fan of both schools. He had preferred walk-on offers from both schools.
There’s something special about putting on that UK jersey for Walker now, especially this week.
Walker said: “Happy as I can be to play for my home state with ‘Kentucky’ across my chest.”
Louisville at Kentucky
Noon (SEC Network)