Tommy Walker: A Tiger in Attack Mode
Nov. 18, 2011
By: Brad Pope
It happens quite frequently in all sports -- players changing positions. But Memphis' Tommy Walker admits, when he was asked to make the switch from defensive to offensive line in 2008, he initially had a hard time with the adjustment.
"I felt like everybody was against me," Walker said. "I started questioning myself, wondering if my skills on defense were just not that good, so they had to figure out where they could put me. I felt like they just did not want me over there."
The issue wasn't that Walker didn't have o-line experience as he successfully worked both sides of the trenches before arriving at Memphis. In his time playing at both Frayser High School and Munford High School in the Memphis area, he was named All-Metro twice; selected Tipton County All-Region; named to the Tennessee Dream Team; and chosen his team's Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Lineman. He was also a permanent team captain in his senior year at Munford High.
Despite his success on both sides of the ball, the decorated athlete was recruited by the Tigers to play on the defensive line, a decision that sat well with Walker. As a true freshman he made an impact right away, seeing action 10 in games during the 2007 campaign.
"I like defense a whole lot better than offense," he said. "On offense you're just trying to block them outside to keep them from going somewhere. What I like about defense is that I get to be in attack mode."
Walker feels like that "attack mode" mindset fits his personality.
"When I have a goal, I go after it and do it to the best of my abilities and I don't think anything can stop me from doing it," he said.
Even as he took a redshirt for the 2008 season, his passion for playing on the defensive line never wavered. For his efforts that season, he was given one of the team's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year awards.
Playing defensive line is not just a position for Walker, it's who he is, so when faced with the dilemma of moving to offensive line it's understandable to see why he would object to the change.
But despite his doubts, Walker was a "team player" and went along with the decision. He transitioned during the Tigers' spring workouts in 2009 and played right offensive tackle during the 2009 and 2010 seasons. In that span, he started 20 games for Memphis. In 2009, he was part of an offensive line that helped Tiger running back Curtis Steele rush for 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns. During that same season, the unit gave up only 17 sacks, which ranked it third in Conference USA.
This season, as a fifth-year senior, Walker was given the chance to move back to the defensive line, the side of the ball that he loves. Heading into November, he has accumulated 21 total tackles (17 unassisted, 4 assisted), 4.5 tackles for a loss, one sack for a loss, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Playing from the defensive end position, it's safe to say that returning to "attack mode" was not problem for Walker.
Over the years, all the on-the-field moves were more than just position changes to Walker; they were also a real-life lesson related to his degree at the U of M, organizational leadership.
"I've taken advantage of gaining knowledge, learning things in my field (of study)," Walker explained. "Being able to learn how to be a people-person, especially in my field...it's easier for you to do your job, where people can relax and talk to you."
The lineman also had to put those people skills to use while adapting to multiple staff changes throughout his career.
"Each year I had a different coach," Walker said. "I had to learn about dealing with the different coaching mentalities and experiences, so I'm able to adapt to different people and adjust to what they need."
Just as he has taken advantage of a position change to learn, he has taken advantage of the opportunities that playing football at the University of Memphis can provide. Walker was named to the Tiger 3.0 Club during the 2011 spring semester, and received his undergraduate degree from the university in May 2011.
"I got a degree," Walker said proudly. "With a high school diploma and a college degree and not getting in trouble, I think Memphis did a good job with me."
With his degree in hand, Walker now has his sights set on a career that will put all of the lessons he has learned in football and in the classroom to work.
"I want to become a firefighter," he said. "That is my main objective when I get out of school and I'm done with playing football. It's a job where the better you execute your objective, the better the team can be, and the better you are as a group instead of being an individual."
It will be a familiar drill for Walker.
"In football you have 11 guys and you have to be able to work with all 11 guys," he added. "Everybody has to be able to do their job. Playing football, you work on being perfect every snap, just like in life, you have to work on being perfect every day. So I think that playing football has prepared me to handle life and my future profession."
Looking back on the experiences he's had with his Tiger teammates, Walker has a deep appreciation for what he has learned through the adversity he has faced.
"You've got to work through it, that's the way life is," Walker said. "You just can't always expect to be on top. It's not always going to be perfect. It's all about how you respond to it when it's not perfect. That determines the kind of person you are."
Even when he felt like everyone was against him and he doubted his ability as a player, Walker pushed on.
"There was a point last year that I just wanted to quit, but I came back because that is not who I am and it's not what Memphis made me to be," he said."You have to finish, you have to fight, and you have to meet it head on when it comes to adversity."
After reflecting on the last five seasons, Walker has some advice for future Tigers who will one day wear the Blue and Gray:
"Be here, work hard, and don't worry about what the person next to you thinks of you," Walker said. "You'll always have some people think negative of you and you'll have some people who think positive of you, but at the end of the day it's about what you think of you, and about how you work. Only you can judge you at the end of the day."
Sound advice coming from a Memphis Tiger that has seen the college game from two very different perspectives, all while learning how to stay in "attack mode" on the field and in life.