Many people not named Drew Franklin were surprised to see walk-on wide receiver Charles Walker have so much success in only his second season as a Wildcat.
He hasn’t had too many opportunities, but he’s made the most of them. “Whenever I get a chance, I just gotta make a play,” Walker said. His biggest play came late in the game against Auburn, hauling in a 20-yard reception down the middle of the field on a 4th-and-long to keep the drive alive.
Many people outside of Louisville were probably surprised to even see him in the game. If you’d seen him play before, you wouldn’t be surprised to see him make big plays in big situations.
Long Before Walker was a Wildcat
Charles Walker was one of the best athletes in Louisville’s Catholic School Athletic Association since he was a 6th-grade football and basketball star for Holy Spirit. His two biggest competitors were
Greg Cody Swabek at Our Lady of Lourdes, and my little brother, Nathan Roush. My Dad and I used to tell Nathan before big games, “Swabek said he’s gonna kick your ass,” or “Walker is going to put you on a poster.” It usually worked. Nathan lost to Swabek in a 6th grade Toy Bowl, but usually came out on top in basketball, defeating Walker in the basketball City Championship as an 8th grader, a game Walker still remembers quite well (even the half-court shot Nathan hit before the halftime buzzer).
All three went on to star at separate Catholic High Schools. Nathan won a State Football Title at DeSales, Swabek at Trinity, and Walker the St. X Tiger joined them on All-State teams. All three walked on at the big three in-state schools; Nathan at WKU, Swabek at UofL, and Walker to UK. The other two have found playing time here and there, but if it were still a competition, Walker would be winning with his performance at inside receiver for UK.
It’s kinda funny how he ended up at UK too. Of all the potential destinations, UK didn’t start near the top. I hung out with his parents for awhile before the Miss. State game, and it sounded like most recruiting stories – a roller coaster. He was ready to play for James Franklin at Vanderbilt, until the coach went to Penn State. WKU was the obvious next choice, but he still really liked Franklin after visiting Happy Valley.
Earlier this week, he told reporters that blood won, “My brother was going here at the time, so that played a big part.” That wasn’t the only selling point. “By the time I knew I was coming to Kentucky, I was happy as could be. I get to play for my home state with Kentucky across my chest.”
Using Special Teams to Get Snaps
He earned playing time immediately at UK, performing on a variety of Special Teams. Even after getting banged up some here and there, he was always present, a rare feat for a true freshman walk-on. When asked if he exceeded his early expectations, he replied, “I don’t think you can ever exceed your expectations because you’re always working for more. But it was big coming in and trying to contribute.”
It was all he could do to get an opportunity. Primarily a running back in high school, Walker had much to learn in order to get open against SEC defenders. “My route running was not that good when I first got here,” Walker said. “It’s definitely a different speed playing in the SEC than playing running back at a 6A school.”
While he was learning how to be a receiver, he excelled in Special Teams, where tactics matter less and effort matters more. “Really, Special Teams just comes down to ‘want to.’ On Special Teams there’s not much scheme about it, you just gotta go get the ball, or you gotta go make your blocks.” He added, “You just gotta want to do it.”
Last week was a little different as the punt returner, requiring some skill to catch the ball in traffic. Even so, he made no mistakes with Vanderbilt defenders creating a cluster around him, and made a nice return before a flag called it back. To our surprise, he was pulled as the starter for Ryan Timmons this week. He was not a bitter about the decision as the KSR Podcast team.
Finishing the Season Strong
The last five weeks have been worse than the awfulness Kentucky football fans are usually subjected to. The worst part? The lack of effort. I hate trying to determine the lack of that intangible when I’m not on the field with the guys, but it’s so obvious you have to point it out.
What makes Walker so likable is that he hasn’t stopped putting the effort forward, and it’s not just because he’s trying to get a **** scholarship. “It’s just hard work, and then when you get your chance you gotta provide. I think I’ve done that.”
Unfortunately, that feeling has not been contagious. It’s taken tough losses and a new quarterback to shake things up.
“It was kind of good to see – obviously not good to see everyone so mad – but I mean it really just showed you that the season’s not over yet. Everyone’s behind this team.” He added, “It was pretty ugly in the locker room after the game, but we’ve recovered.”
The offense that proved to be explosive early in the season has disappeared. They don’t need to reinvent the wheel, they need to execute.
“The major issue is that we just gotta make big-time plays in the game. The balls are there,” he said. “When we look back at the plays we missed, it’s usually just one person not doing their job, or just not doing their job a little less than they usually do.”
If those problems persist, I think I speak for all of the KSR crew when I say, “Just throw it Walker’s way.” He has always brought the effort. Hopefully it is finally infecting his fellow wide receivers.