On Saturday, Missouri senior safety Kenronte Walker had the game of his life as he was instrumental in the Tigers' successive fourth-quarter defensive stands that secured Missouri's 24-20 win over visiting Arizona State.
With 3:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Missouri clinging to a 24-20 lead, Arizona State moved the ball to the Missouri 1-yard line. Two running plays later, Arizona State was positioned on the 3-yard line, as the Sun Devils' QB, Taylor Kelly, rolled out to his right and rifled a pass into the back right corner of the end zone. Walker was well-positioned in man-to-man coverage, and he reached out to knock the pass away.
About two-and-a-half minutes later, Walker came up big again, as he stepped in front of Kelly's pass in the end zone for an interception that squelched the Arizona State comeback, returning the football 49 yards to midfield.
On Monday, the Southeastern Conference named Walker its Defensive Player of Week. On Monday afternoon, I spoke with Walker, and I asked him what the conference honor means to him.
"It means a lot," replied Walker. "From the help of my teammates, them encouraging me, and them making plays underneath and all around me, and me making plays over the top, that's what caused it. All the glory goes to my teammates, and to God."
Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel shared a few thoughts regarding Walker's conference honor.
"Congratulations to Kenronte Walker for really just a couple of huge plays in a really big game," said Coach Pinkel. "It was nice to see him do that. I've seen him grow and mature since he's come to Mizzou. It's really cool to see all of that happen."
With the game on the line, Walker rose to the occasion.
"As a defensive back, that's what you want," explained Walker. "It's the last play of the game, and it's on you."
Missouri Assistant Coach Alex Grinch, who coaches Missouri's safeties, talked about Walker's exemplary attitude and mental approach.
"He's an intense guy," explained Coach Grinch, speaking of Walker. "And the intensity is on the field, off the field, in walk through, in practice, in meetings, and everywhere in between. He's just a pleasure to be around."
I asked Walker how much better can he become?
"Every day, I try to get better," replied Walker, focusing on the process. "That's the goal for everybody on this team here at Missouri. Every week, we're trying to get better, and to raise the bar."
"I think like all guys, I think it's a daily grind to get better in all of the little things," said Coach Grinch, answering my question about how much better Walker can become. "You know, from alignment, assignment, all of those things, he can improve on. He has so thus far and he will continue."
Coach Pinkel talked about how Walker has fit in at Missouri.
"He came from junior college," related Coach Pinkel, talking about Walker's transition since his arrival at Missouri. "When he came in, he was very quiet. He was checking us out. I call it earning trust………………………………….. It's like a family around here, but players have to feel that (trust) themselves. It was neat to see how that's developed with him as the months and months went on. I've really seen him mature as a young man. He's very disciplined. He very focused. This team's really, really important to him. He's really embraced this football team. You can tell that the last two years. It's just really neat to see that happen to people like that."
Walker came to Missouri from Fayetteville (NC) by way of City College of San Francisco, where he had played cornerback and the nickel back position. When he arrived at Missouri he asked the coaches to red-shirt him.
"I wanted to learn the safety position because I had never played it before," explained Walker.
He talked about coming to Missouri.
"Mizzou was always the best fit," explained Walker. "It's been a great transformation for me, learning from other safeties like Jerrell Harrison and Kenji Jackson, just them teaching me and showing me the ways. All of them just showed me the routine, and I just learned the safety position from them and from the coaches."
"I feel very comfortable here at Missouri," Walker continued, talking about his experience at Missouri. "I learned my keys and the fundamentals of the safety position."
"It's very family oriented here at Missouri," said Walker. "That's the reason that I came here. It's the best fit for me. That's what I like about Missouri. It's very family oriented. Everybody stays together and plays together, and that's what I like. When I first came here, I felt a real good, tight fist with the people I met, and I knew these are the guys I want to play with."