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East Tennessee still a hit with former NFL player Walker

Trey Williams • Jul 29, 2014 at 3:36 AM

Former Tennessee Titans defensive lineman Gary Walker is still around a lot of hitting.

His daughter Samara’s Carolina Crush opened play in the ASA 10-under fast-pitch softball national championship Monday by walloping DSA2K3 (Crystal Lake, Illinois) for a 13-3 victory at Winged Deer Park.

Samara got the Crush started with an RBI double in the second inning.

Walker, a farmer with a big garden, chickens and cows in Lavonia, Georgia, isn’t the stereotypical sports dad. He was perfectly calm five minutes before the Crush’s opener, talking about everything from Steve Spurrier to Steve McNair.

“I don’t (get butterflies),” Walker said. “I just want mine not to be nervous and just play and enjoy it.”

Walker enjoyed his football career. He played for Terry Bowden at Auburn, and after being drafted by the Houston Oilers, he made the move with Bud Adams’ team to Tennessee.

Walker spent the first two years of his career (1995-96) with the Houston Oilers, and stayed with them after they became the Tennessee Oilers for two years (1997-98). He went from Nashville to Jacksonville, where he spent three seasons, and then concluded his career with four years as a Houston Texan.

Walker visited the Tri-Cities while promoting the Oilers in the initial years.

“I came up here with them,” Walker said, “and actually went out and took a couple of tours of the racetrack (Bristol Motor Speedway). That was fun. I enjoyed my stay in Tennessee. …

“Steve McNair was a quality guy. Eddie George, Henry Ford, Josh Evans, Blaine Bishop, Joe Bowden – all of the guys on that team were great guys. ... We had a lot of late-round picks that made the team, and every one of us had to work. And we had a great coach in Jeff Fisher. He was a players’ coach and everybody loved him, and he put a good staff of people around him. … The locker room was great.”

Walker maintains contact with some of the Titans.“Me and Eddie Robinson still talk to each other,” he said. “Every now and then I’ll talk to Eddie George or Blaine.”

Bishop works with the Titans radio team.

“When the Auburn trees got poisoned,” Walker said, “they called me and got my take on that for the radio show one morning.”

Walker had 46 ½ sacks during his NFL career, but is just as eager to talk college football.

“I’m 30 minutes from Clemson and 30 minutes from the University of Georgia,” Walker said. “I was a Clemson-Auburn fan (growing up), and I probably would’ve went to Clemson if they wouldn’t have fired Danny Ford.”

Steve Spurrier surely aided Ford’s exit at Clemson. Spurrier’s Duke Blue Devils beat Ford’s talented Tigers team in Durham en route to an improbable ACC title in 1989. It was Ford’s final year at Clemson and the final year at Duke for Spurrier, who took over at Florida.

Spurrier’s Gators were No. 1 in the nation when Terry Bowden’s Tigers beat them in the Swamp, 36-33, on Oct. 15, 1994. It was Spurrier’s second home loss in 28 games at Florida, and the upset improved Bowden to 17-0 at Auburn.

Walker recovered a Terry Dean fumble on the Florida 19-yard line and Dean threw four interceptions before being benched in favor of sophomore Danny Wuerffel.

“That was good, but beating Alabama was probably more (fun),” Walker said. “I have a lot of respect for Steve Spurrier. I like the way he goes about doing stuff. He keeps it interesting. He kind of gets under everybody’s skin — all of the coaches — and he knows how to do it. He says whatever comes to his mind.

“When he came to the Redskins coaching in the pros, I mean, he didn’t have the career he wanted or the success he wanted, but he still enjoyed it. And he showed people that you didn’t have to be there 24/7 to win. He had his guys going home and enjoying their families. And whatever people want to dislike about him, I like it, because he’s a stand-up guy, he takes care of his players and he speaks the truth about them. If you want to know the truth, ask him. If you don’t want to know the truth, don’t ask him.”

While Walker was discussing Spurrier a shout of “Go ‘Cocks” came from his daughter’s Carolina Crush dugout.

Walker smiled, and a moment later he mentioned Cam Newton-led Auburn’s 56-17 SEC Championship win against South Carolina in 2010.“We’ve got a lot of South Carolina fans on this team. They talk about ‘go Cocks’ and this and that, and I just say ‘Cam Newton’ and all that’s shut up,” Walker said with a smile. But this week at Winged Deer you can find Walker cheering for Carolina. The Crush has played seven tournaments this year, and only lost two games. But this week the opponents include teams from California, Texas and Florida.

Walker doesn’t appear too caught up in winning or losing.

“It’s fun being able to relive some of it,” Walker said, “and just watching them grow up and go through it. The important thing is to have fun.”

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