For senior linebacker Tre Walker, being a leader has always come naturally. He has always been the one to pick up a teammate or motivate them to get to a level they did not think was possible. But for the first time in his life, he felt like the shoe was on the other foot. He needed to hear that motivation he normally delivers from someone else.
Last season, Walker suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for the remaining five games of the season, two of which the Wildcats lost. K-State had a plethora of talented linebackers in 2012, so Walker was used in a reserved role. The then-junior had only 19 tackles in his shortened season.
In his first year as a Wildcat, Walker made an immediate impact as a true freshman. He recorded 47 tackles and was named a freshman All-American. His former high school football coach at Olathe North, Pete Flood, said he was not at all surprised to see him play as a true freshman.
“When kids go away to school, and especially to a Division 1 school, to get on the field as a freshman is a huge accomplishment,” Flood said. “His ability to compete, that’s what got him out on the field. He’s got a great motor in terms of playing at a high level of intensity on a per-snap basis.”
Walker wasted no time in getting his name back into the headlines in his sophomore year. In week three against Miami, Walker made three consecutive goal line tackles, including the game winning tackle, against the Hurricanes.
“The play against Miami was unbelievable, but Tre has always had a pretty good nose for the football,” Flood said. “He’s always had that sense of getting to the ball, especially on the defensive side.”
Finishing his sophomore year with 52 tackles, Walker seemed primed to continue his success for his junior season as part of a very talented linebacking core.
Last year, the Wildcats were 8-0, ranked No. 3 in the country and coming off of a big win on the road against Big 12 newcomer West Virginia when, near the end of the third quarter against then-No. 14 Texas Tech, Walker went down with what he initially thought was a minor injury. It wasn’t until he tried to walk off the field that he realized that he could not do so on his own. A player who did everything he could to fire up his team and who tried to be a leader on and off the field realized that he would only be able to lead from the sidelines for the rest of the year.
With advances in medicine and training in today’s world, players are healing faster and even becoming better than they were pre-injury. However, getting over an injury is not just a physical challenge, but it can also take a toll on an athletes mental game.
“I know Tre has worked really hard in his rehab,” Flood, who is now the sports psychology teacher at Olathe North, said. “The recovery from (surgeries) is just amazing. So the biggest thing for him is getting out there, going 100 percent, making that cut, making that hit. Understand that it is going to be alright and then once that process has happened, he’ll be right back to it.”
During the spring season, Walker was back practicing with the team after being ahead of schedule with his surgery. However, coaches felt like it was a safe idea to leave him out of the 2013 spring game.
“It has definitely been an uphill grind and an uphill battle. I’ve never had to deal with something like this,” Walker said in the spring. “I’m just trying to stay positive and keep myself motivated. My dad told me all the time that ‘sometimes the motivator needs to be motivated.’”
Walker has been going through full practices this fall and is expected to play on Friday, as he is currently listed on the depth chart as the starting strong side linebacker. Not only does he face the task of returning to game speed, but also helping some new faces fill in on the defensive side of the ball. There have been a lot of questions about this defense, but Walker has nothing but confidence in his squad.
“We are going to be just fine. We’ve been going back to the drawing board and we are just going to do what we do to get back to where we need to be,” Walker said.
Whether it is a former high school teammate or a current coach, everyone will tell you that Tre Walker is famous for the motto “let’s go to work.” Walker has not played an official down of football in nearly 10 months but said he believes that he will be ready to go to work this season.
“Since my injury I was just fired up to get back to practice,” Walker said. “I can’t wait to get out there and finally play again.”