Making an Adult Decision

Arthur Walker became a football coach and a teacher after playing in high school and a year in junior college. "Since I was coaching, it was only natural to want my son to play football," Walker said. "I figured if I'm going to have a boy and want him to be an athlete, why not give him a name that exudes excellence?"

So when Walker's wife Bethany became pregnant with the couples' first child, he decided to name him after a successful, flamboyant college athlete who would go on to excel in both Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

And on Feb. 26, 1989, Deion Walker was born.

It was clear from an early age that the young Walker was indeed blessed with extraordinary athletic gifts.

"He started playing AAU basketball when he was nine and he was always playing with top level athletes," Arthur Walker said.

The only problem for Coach Walker was that Deion was more interested in hoops and track than he was with the gridiron.

"We went back and forth on that for a long time," Arthur Walker said.

Arthur was able to convince his son to play in sixth grade, but the tall, slender kid was stuck at tight end and wasn't keen on blocking, so he decided not to play in seventh grade.

Arthur, who was coaching at Jay M. Robinson in Concord (N.C.), was able to persuade his son to give football another shot in eighth grade.

"I'd tell him that he didn't know if he was going to be 6-5 or 6-6 and that there were a lot of basketball players (at that height,)" Arthur said. "But I told him if he was 6-3 or 6-4 (and played football) he would be able to go to any college in the country.

"In eighth grade, they moved him to wide receiver and he started to excel."

Deion wasn't the only receiver in the Concord area having success at the time either.

"We had a receiver, Freddie Brown, who was being recruited," Arthur said. "A lot of people were already comparing Deion to Freddie. I think that's when it finally sunk in."

For Deion, it was important to actually see someone doing what his father was telling him he could do. Brown would go on to sign with South Carolina.

"I would go to the games and see Freddie, who is my best friend now, and think that I wanted to be just like that," Deion said.

But Deion was still in love with hoops and entered high school ranked as the 31st-best ninth grader in the country by some basketball rating services.
,br> Deion did not play for his father until he was a sophomore at Asheville, but the father-son/coach-player relationships weren't always the easiest.

"We had a difficult time separating the two at first," Arthur said. "I'd come home and want to break down practice and he wanted to leave it on the field. But eventually he took it more seriously and he would come to me and say that he wanted to look at tape."

At least at Asheville there weren't any playcalling-issues. With Deion lining up at quarterback, Arthur was able to put the ball in his hands every play. Walker threw for over 1,800 yards and 21 touchdowns as a sophomore.

But before his junior year, father and son would move to Christchurch School in Christchurch (Va.) where Arthur would be the offensive coordinator and Deion would be able to play wideout again.

"You never want anyone to feel that you're calling plays just for your son, but it became evident to everyone that he needed the ball in his hands," Arthur said.

Deion caught 50 balls for over 733 yards and seven touchdowns his first year at Christchurch.

"Sometimes I'd be like, ‘C'mon dad can you throw me the ball a little bit?'" Deion joked. "But we had three solid running backs and I got to touch the ball a lot."

During the summer before Deion's senior year, Arthur created some packages that would take advantage of not only Deion's talent, but also the attention that he would receive from opposing defenses. Most of those plans had to be scrapped, though, after Deion got turf toe in the first game of the season.

He would only play in three games as a senior, but college coaches had already seen enough.

The first scholarship offer came from in-state Virginia during the fall of his junior year and was followed by offers from Penn State and Maryland. The scholarship count quickly jumped from three to five to 15 and eventually all of the way up to 53.

"(Deion) wanted to make sure that everyone that was taking the time to show him attention was getting his attention in return," Arthur said. "When the numbers got that high, the hardest thing for him was telling coaches like Les Miles and Urban Meyer that he wasn't going to their schools."

The family wanted to make sure that Deion would be going to a school that emphasized academics, despite what his childhood favorites may have been. "Growing up Florida State and USC were always my favorite schools, so when Florida State offered, it was basically game, set, match," Deion said. "I went down there and I liked it a lot, but I didn't feel like it was the right place for me in the long run."

The Walkers wanted to be certain that Deion went to a school that would allow him to grow.

"We wanted to make sure that he would go somewhere he could display his academic as well as athletic prowess," Arthur said. "We cut a lot of schools out really early if they didn't have the graduation rates, especially among African-Americans."

During meetings with coaches Bethany Walker was able to make her presence felt.

"She was always asking the hard questions. Whereas I was the one talking football, she was more worried about who would be taking care of her son," Arthur said. "She was in there wondering where is he going to do laundry and things that I would never think of."

While other schools were being eliminated, Notre Dame was able to jump in the race.

"Notre Dame is on par with the (Ivy League) and Notre Dame was the only school that took the time to spell out exactly what Deion needed to do academically," Arthur said. "Once the semester grades were in, the offer came and we went up for an official visit. Coach Powlus and Coach Ianello must have spent an hour and a half just talking academics."

Deion eventually announced his decision to attend Notre Dame on national television during the Under Armour All-American Game in January, but the Walkers told Coach Weis and his staff weeks earlier. Deion admitted to having some doubts right before Signing Day as Penn State and Tennessee made late pushes, but is confident that he made the right choice.

"I had to make an adult decision," he said. "It was about football, but we knew that we had to look down the road, whether I will be getting drafted or applying for a job on Wall Street."

Arthur is pleased with his son's final decision.

"I can't say enough about him," he said. "Not only am I proud of what he's done on the field, but he really buckled down academically his junior and senior years to make this all possible."


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