Keeon Walker was an accomplished safety at Syracuse, playing from 1998-2002. Though he came in as a running back out of Hoboken High School in Hoboken (N.J.). After spending one season at that position, he switched to the defensive side of the ball for his sophomore campaign. He remained a safety for the rest of his Orange career.
Walker started nearly every game from his sophomore season on at safety, becoming a very productive player on some good Syracuse squads. As a junior, he finished third on the team with 67-tackles as part of a defense that was one of the best in the nation. His senior season was perhaps his best.
He finished 88 tackles, including 12 for a loss. At the time, that was the most by a defensive back in a single season. Walker also set the single-season record for forced fumbles by a defensive back in a season with five.
CuseNation.com recently caught up with the former Syracuse standout. He remembers his career in Orange fondly.
”To me, I think everything went by pretty fast,” Walker said. “After my transition from running back to safety. To me it was like a blur. I went in as a running back and my heart was at running back. But the transition was because I just felt like I wanted to get onto the field. I just wanted to play football. When all is said and done, that was my main goal was to be on the football field and to contribute.
”I just remember always having a great coaching staff even though every year we had a different defensive backs coach. Every year it was learning something new. Different techniques and stuff like that. Coach P was an excellent coach. Very, very smart and taught me a lot as far as football is concerned.”
The 2001 team was the best in which Walker was a contributing member. The Orange went 10-3 that season and finished ranked 14th in both polls. They were led by a stingy defense that had All-American Dwight Freeney as its star. That team stood out to Walker as he reflected on his college career.
”The thing about that team is we didn’t have a lot of expectations,” Walker said. “But at the same time, in practice, everything we accomplished we practiced. We practiced it during the week. Causing turnovers, really working on those things and focusing on defense. Then playing with guys like Dwight Freeney, Clifton Smith, Quentin Harris who was a veteran. That defense, we had a lot of playing experience as a defense.”
Walker’s career spanned the end of Donovan McNabb’s career to the end of the Paul Pasqualoni era. When he thinks about on his time at Syracuse, he remembers the great players, the big crowds, and the game day atmospheres inside the Carrier Dome.
”I tell guys about that all the time,” Walker said. “I tell guys about my first game in the Carrier Dome when we played against Tennessee who went onto win the National Championship. We were one bad call (questionable pass interference on fourth down that set up Tennessee’s game winning field goal) away from that not even happening to them, you know?
”Just running out that day into the Dome, I paused for a minute and was like, ‘oh my God this is what college football is all about.’ I was in total shock. You couldn’t hear anybody. You couldn’t hear someone that was talking to you a few feet away from you. It was just amazing watching Donovan McNabb play. It was like magic watching him with the stuff he did on the field. Then you had the Dwight Freeney and Keith Bullock, Quinton Spotwood and Kevin Johnson.
”Those guys went on to have great careers in the NFL,” he continued. “Watching them and playing with them was just an amazing opportunity. It was a great experience.”