The Graduate: One Proud and Happy Football Tiger

Auburn, Ala.--<b>Rashaud Walker</b> has been a competitor his entire life going back to his youth as an All-State star at Southwest DeKalb High in Decatur, Ga. Few victories have meant as much to the Auburn football standout as his successes in the classroom this summer. <p>

The Auburn defensive back, who picked up his degree on Monday at graduation ceremonies at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, is wearing a smile that could light up half of the campus. To earn that diploma, Walker had to finish four challenging classes this summer. By earning the sociology degree, he is granted a fourth-year of eligibility under NCAA rules because he enrolled at AU as a partial academic qualifier, meaning he could practice but not play as a true freshman.

"It was real difficult this summer, but it was great experience that will help me get ready for the real world," Walker tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "It was a pressure situation. I kept praying and kept working and I knew everything would be all right."

Walker says when he got the word last week that he had passed his last class, he felt great. "It was like winning a big game against Alabama or intercepting a pass in an important situation. The anticipation was like what you have before a big game. When it is over and you know you have done a good job, it is a good feeling."

Rashaud Walker has been a key performer for the Tigers for three seasons.

Walker passed two English classes, a math class and a science class--two in the first summer session and two in the second one. He will enroll as a graduate student for fall semester and says he is looking for a couple of classes that will help him in the future.

Virgil Starks, the associate athletic director for student services, says he is proud of Walker, who has overcome the tragic death of his mother, who was lost in a traffic accident last year in Atlanta. She was very close to Walker and many of his Auburn teammates.

"In our business of supporting students, the ultimate in job satisfaction is when you see an individual, who has an immense adversity, both personal and academic issues, and they find a way to overcome them.

"I always say to all of my student-athletes, earning degree is not a sign of your intelligence. It is a sign of your character. It shows a willingness to work hard and the integrity with which you enter that process and, more importantly, what you bring to the environment and what the environment adds to your world. You should go no place that doesn't add value to your world and Auburn University is definitely a place where you can add value."

Walker says he spent many late nights this summer reading books for his English classes and making sure he was on top of his assignments. In addition to achieving his goal to graduate, Walker says he has a burning desire to be a part of the 2002 football team. The last thing he wanted to do was let his teammates down by not being ready to play cornerback this fall for new secondary coach and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.

"We are going to have a lot of fun out there on defense this year," Walker says. "I am just going to try to continue to be a leader for the young guys."

As a true freshman in 1998, Walker thought he was a full academic qualifier and was expected to see a lot of action at cornerback for then defensive coordinator Bill "Brother" Oliver. However, after he had already made a mark on the practice field, the word came down that the NCAA Clearinghouse had a problem with his transcript and that he would have to sit out as a partial qualifier.

Walker worked on the scout team and when Tommy Tuberville was named head coach and John Lovett took over the defense, Walker played the whip position and later worked at rover. He developed into one of the top players on the team. He was named SEC Player of the Week last season for his performance in AU's victory over then top-ranked Florida. He overcame an ankle injury to start 10 games at rover last fall.

This year, Walker is running No. 2 at cornerback behind fellow senior Roderick Hood, but Chizik says that Walker is just like a starter and will see considerable playing time.

"I feel comfortable at corner or wherever Coach Chizik wants to put me," Walker says. "I want to be a team player. He is a great coach and I will be glad to play strong safety, corner or wherever he wants me to play.

"It is important to me to be a part of this team," Walker adds. "Sometimes I would be up late at night studying. I was tired and ready to stop, but I knew I had to continue to work hard if I wanted to continue to be a part of this team, which I think is going to be real special."

The incoming Auburn freshmen started practice on Monday. Walker and the veterans will be on the field for two-a-days starting on Thursday.

Starks says that Walker can be a good role model for others to follow. "Anytime you can show a student who can overcome adversity, even in a rigorous academic environment such as Auburn, it shows that there is a way to do it. We are very proud of Rashaud. I also know he is very proud of himself. He took all the tests. He read all the books. He wrote all the papers."

Walker and the Tigers will participate in Fan Day from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. Full contact practices start the following Monday as Auburn prepares for the Sept. 2nd season opener at Southern Cal.

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