David Walker and the early 1970s Texas A&M football teams could be the stuff of legend, but many don’t know his name. Why not? Who is David Walker?
Texas A&M football cherishes history in a way that few college football programs do. There’s always time for Aggies to remember the good ‘ol days and honor the legacy of those that came before. How then could David Walker, one of the most successful quarterbacks in Texas A&M football history, remain unknown to so many Aggies?
David Walker grew up a Cajun boy from Sulphur, Louisiana. It didn’t come as much of a surprise when he signed his letter of intent to play with the LSU Tigers prior to the 1973 season. His mother was a diehard LSU fan, so staying in state was almost a forgone conclusion for the No. 1 quarterback prospect in Louisiana. Then everything changed.
Despite signing with LSU, Walker decided to take one more recruiting visit, this time to Texas A&M. The Aggies did not have a starting quarterback on the roster. That intrigued the incoming freshman who was eager to get on the field.
When he arrived in College Station he saw snow on the ground for one of the first times in his life. “Does it snow here all the time?” Walker asked Aggie defensive end Blake Schwarz. “You like snow? It snows here all the time,” he replied. And that was that. Walker packed his bags and enrolled at Texas A&M.
When he arrived on campus Walker had to work his way up from third team. Instead of being handed the starting job like he had hoped, he was greeted with a stern lecture from head coach Emory Bellard. “You’re not mature enough to play quarterback for my team,” Bellard retorted after Walker expressed his frustrations. One practice into his Aggie career and Walker was already regretting his decision to come to Texas.
Rather than throw in the towel he chose to persevere. It wasn’t long before he’d get his chance to win the starting job. The Aggies had gotten off to a 2-3 start in his freshman season. The team needed an offensive spark and decided to roll the dice with the freshman gunslinger. Walker and the Aggies smashed TCU 35-16. That was enough to earn him the starting job which he kept for the rest of the year. The Aggies finished 5-6 with a loss to rival Texas at Kyle Field. Walker was named the SWC Freshman of the Year.
Walker returned to Texas A&M as the starting quarterback for his sophomore season, but there was a new wrinkle. Coach Bellard had decided to run the triple option. That wasn’t good news for Walker who fancied himself as a drop back passer. The triple option required some complex reads that left the quarterback exposed and presented few passing opportunities.
Texas A&M football sprinted out of the gate to a 7-1 record that year and had national championship aspirations. That was until the ninth game of the year when SMU defensive end Louie Kelcher burst through the line and drove Walker into the ground, hard. “I knew my shoulder was gone,” Walker said. “I knew something was terribly wrong.” It turns out that the young quarterback had suffered a sternoclavicular dislocation that would alter his Aggie career forever.
He couldn’t throw the ball down field after that injury. He relied on injections of pain killers, without the knowledge of his parents, to make it through the final two games of the season: a win over Rice and a crushing defeat at the hands of Texas.
A former two-year starter, Walker found himself as the starting quarterback in the “Turd Bowls”, weekly intra-squad scrimmages between the walk-ons.
That signaled what looked to be beginning of the end for David Walker. David Shipman took over the reigns at quarterback the following season and Walker slowly dropped down the depth chart. Following the Spring Game, Bellard informed him that he wouldn’t be playing at all that season. Not only would he not be playing, but he wasn’t invited to the games either.
During a practice midway through the 1975 season he hit the low point of his Aggie career. A former two-year starter, Walker found himself as the starting quarterback in the “Turd Bowls”, weekly intra-squad scrimmages between the walk-ons.
Walker traveled to one game in 1975, the Aggies’ Southwestern conference finale against Arkansas. Quarterbacks David Shipman and Mike Jay had fought through injuries leaving only true freshman Keith Baker between Walker and the field. He played the role of the 12th Man that day, standing on the sideline, ready if his team needed him. Instead the Razorbacks whipped Texas A&M 31-6 while Walker rode the bench. A foreboding image of the downfall of a once promising young career.
When he returned to school for spring practice in 1976 he found himself at the bottom of the depth chart once again. That was it. Walker walked into Bellard’s office and quit. He packed his bags and returned to Louisiana.
However that wasn’t the end of his football days. Not long after that, Walker signed with Louisiana Lafayette, fully intending to continue playing the game he loved. “I was still going to have to sit out another year because of NCAA transfer rules,” Walker recalled, “but I was willing to do that to get away from Texas A&M.”
Bellard might have given up on Walker, but defensive ends coach R.C. Slocum hadn’t lost faith in the outcast quarterback. Slocum showed up at the Walker home in Louisiana and asked him to give Texas A&M football one more chance. Walker obliged and quietly returned to College Station with a full scholarship.
I’d been beat down, shot up, run off and kicked to the curb. And here I was now, pretty much owning Texas. Redemption. Total redemption.
The 1976 season began with Walker as the third team quarterback. He wasn’t even listed in the media guide. Injuries and ineffectiveness paved the way for Walker, who was sitting on his couch in Louisiana a few months prior, to regain the starting job once again.
The team captain, he would lead the Aggies on a seven game winning streak to close out the season with a 10-2 record, including the second win against Texas at Darrel K Royal stadium in Texas A&M history. “I’d been beat down, shot up, run off and kicked to the curb,” said Walker, “and here I was now, pretty much owning Texas. Redemption. Total redemption.”
The 1976 Texas A&M football team to this day holds a special distinction. They were the only Aggie team to beat Texas in Austin, win a bowl game, and finish ranked in the top 10. From the “Turd Bowl” to the mountain top. The story of David Walker is one that movies are made of.
But there was no movie for Walker. There wasn’t even a thank you. The ’76 team has never since been honored at pregame or halftime ceremonies at Kyle Field. Despite a historic season, Walker has not received as much as an invitation from the university that values history and tradition more than any other.
Walker has his share of ideas. Could it be how the university handled his shoulder injury in 1974? Or his near-transfer in 1975? No, it was the end of his career that remains a rough spot in Aggie history.
Texas A&M played Houston at Kyle Field for their final game in 1977. The contest was being televised and his parents and family were watching from home. Midway through the second quarter of his final game as the starting quarterback of the Texas A&M football team, Walker was benched. The Aggies won, but Walker finally had enough.
The following week Texas A&M accepted an invitation to play Southern California in the Bluebonnet Bowl. The team returned to campus for practice and offensive coordinator Tom Wilson called for the first team offense, just like he always had. But Walker stood stone still on the sideline.
Walker turned to Wilson and delivered an ultimatum:
And with that his career at Texas A&M was over.
Walker saw some playing time as a backup in the Aggies’ loss to the Trojans, but the sentiment remained. He had been wronged by Texas A&M one too many times, and he’d had enough.
To this day Walker has only been to a handful of football games since his career ended in 1977. Over the years he’s spent some time coaching and working with cars. According to Walker those busy Saturdays have kept him and his two daughters from returning to Kyle Field.
David Walker’s career seesawed back and forth between the awesome and the tragic. You won’t find it broadcast during the next “Bugle Call”, but it’s a story worth telling. On one hand he led Texas A&M football to some of its greatest accomplishments in program history. On the other: he quit.
We took a shot. We took a shot on a nothing program at a nothing school and turned it into something great. The beginning of winning at Texas A&M began in 1974. That’s when losing every year ended
Texas A&M University maintains six core values: excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect and selfless service. Perhaps Walker’s story, juxtaposed with those values, tells a story that all of us can relate to. A story of a flawed hero that battled through adversity and had a real story and a real life.
As Walker sees it, “We took a shot. We took a shot on a nothing program at a nothing school and turned it into something great. The beginning of winning at Texas A&M began in 1974. That’s when losing every year ended.” Whether or not he was in the right or the wrong, Texas A&M football fans owe some debt of gratitude to the tradition of winning that the teams of the 1970’s started. Walker’s 25-9 record as a starter still ranks second in Aggie history. He threw for 2,517 yards without surpassing 110 passes in any single season.
When the word got out that the Aggies were considering moving to the SEC the Aggie community began to cycle back through the depths of Texas A&M football history. People began asking questions about the teams of the old days. What really happened? Who were these guys? On the urging of his mother, Walker decided it was his duty to tell the story.
His book, I’ll Tell You When You’re Good, as Walker says, chronicles “the very worst that college football has to offer but also the very best. It’s the Texas A&M history book that they don’t tell you about at Fish Camp.” Want to know more about one of Texas A&M football’s greatest tragic hero? Pick up the book and hear the story from the man himself.
Good or bad, the career of David Walker was unconventional at best, and in a sense that defines his legacy. However you look at it, his story is both bizarre and endearing. David Walker, Texas A&M’s most overlooked tragic hero.
***Quotes from interview with David Walker. Scores from My Aggie Nation. Stats from Sports Reference***