At Maryland, Austin Walker lived the dream of walk-on football players everywhere.
The 6-foot, 195-pound safety from Langley High in Northern Virginia joined the Terps in 2007 and redshirted as a freshman. Over the course of the next two seasons, Walker appeared in 22 games, mostly as a special teams performer. Then before his redshirt junior season began, Walker was awarded a scholarship, which he kept for his fifth year as well.
"It was a breakthrough," Walker said. "That was my goal when I came in. I really sacrificed and worked for it. Seeing the dream kind of come true was extremely rewarding."
Walker finished his Maryland career with 22 tackles (11 solo) and two sacks in 47 games. He also got to play two seasons with his younger brother Alex, a walk-on defensive lineman for the Terps.
Walker, who's now working in Reston, Va., and living with his family in Great Falls, spoke to The Sun recently about his Maryland football career.
How did you end up at Maryland in the first place?
They just showed the most interest. I was looking at a couple different schools locally – Virginia, Virginia Tech and Maryland were the big three. I liked the close proximity to home, and like I said, they showed the most interest and made me feel comfortable. That's why I chose Maryland.
Coming in as a walk-on, what kind of role did you expect? Did the coaches tell you anything beforehand?
I didn't think I would be getting any special treatment or anything like that. I started at the bottom and then worked my way up through special teams. I was able to have that experience, and I was happy about that.
What's the first game action you saw that really stands out?
It was when we played Clemson in 2008. We went down to Death Valley and won. It was my first year. I played as a freshman on special teams, but this is when I really found my niche and found my role. I was able to make a couple plays in that game.
Were you surprised that you were getting playing time?
I always knew I could play. I just know I had a shot to get in somewhere school-wise, and my work ethic was going to allow me to play. I got my shot and I guess the rest is history. I made the most of it.
What were the individual and team highlights of your Terps career?
I had been primarily a special teams player up until my junior year. Going in on defense and making some plays [stands out]. Against Wake Forest, just staying in and getting time on the defensive side of the ball [in 2010]. For a team moment, having the opportunity to win a championship in 2008 and 2010. We were always a game away from being able to go to the ACC championship game. It always came down to Florida State. If we were able to beat them, we could have gone. We never did, but having the opportunity to compete for a championship is what I enjoyed. If it wasn't that, it was when we beat Virginia [in 2010]. I hate Virginia football. I went 1-4 against Virginia in my career. We beat them in Charlottesville. That was the most memorable victory of my career.
Obviously there was a lot written and said about the coaching change with Ralph Friedgen to Randy Edsall. What was it like on the inside? How did you take it?
Well I was going into my senior season, so I was never going to transfer. I was going to be on board. I just wanted to be successful as a team. I respected both coaching staffs. Ralph obviously gave me an opportunity and gave me a chance. We won games. It was great. Coach Edsall, I understand and respect what he was doing and I just think whenever you have a new regime in a coaching change, you know there's going to be an adjustment along the way. The transition for me was not that bad. All he did was keep people accountable for their actions and [ask that they] do things the right way. Personally, for myself, it wasn't that big of a change. I just did what I was asked and tried to be the best teammate and player that I could be.
Do you have any regrets?
I don't. I gave football everything I had. I don't think there was one thing I could do differently. The only thing that maybe I wish was a little different is … playing a little bit more defense my senior year. I didn't get on the defensive side of the field as much as I would've liked. But I gave it everything I had.
What do you miss the most?
Just the grind with your teammates, competing and working for something bigger and better than yourself. All the time you put in the offseason, all the weights and everything you put in to try to be successful. It was definitely a good experience; something you miss when it's finished. There's really nothing like it.
Have you graduated?
Yes I have. I graduated this past fall. In December I walked, after the season.
What was your major?
Communications and American Studies.
What have you been doing since then?
I just started working for a government contracting company (LMN Solutions in Reston, Va.). I was just doing a lot of networking and job hunting, stuff like that. I was just trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
How did you get into that line of work?
It's just something that I kind of came into. I'd eventually like to do something in sales and sports. This was just an opportunity that presented itself. It's not necessarily long-term, but it's something good for experience. I can go from there.
How does it feel being six months removed from your last football game?
It's definitely weird. Like I said, you just get so used to it, doing it all the time. But the guys I'm closest with, I stay in touch with. I go back to Maryland pretty often to check guys out for spring practice and to just hang out. I guess it makes you miss it a little bit. But it comes to an end for everybody.
Which guys on the team are you still in touch with?
I'm especially close with three defensive backs there now: Eric Franklin, Matt Robinson and Dexter McDougle. We were always pretty close when I was there. When they came in, I was the older guy who maybe looked out for them a little bit. We developed pretty good relationships through that process. And I still remain in pretty good contact with all those guys. Definitely friends for life.
Any last thoughts on your Maryland career?
I had a very great and positive experience. There were ups and there were downs as a team. We never really accomplished the goal we set to win a championship, but it was a very, very positive experience. I learned a lot from it and made some great friends.