March 8, 2021, is a random date; it's safe to say most people cannot recall exactly what they were doing. But MSU running back Kenneth Walker III remembers one particular detail.
The team had a guest speaker that day who told the players to write down their goals so they could look at them every day. Among those scribbled by Walker was one of the most prized trophies in American sports: the Heisman Trophy.
DeVonta Smith, Joe Burrow and Kyler Murray were the last three to win college football’s MVP award. Only one running back has won the award since 2010; Alabama's Derrick Henry won it in 2015. Kenneth Walker III, a transfer from Wake Forest who was joining a program that has struggled for years to consistently put points on the board, didn't feel close to being in the conversation.
“I'm not sure what I was thinking, to be honest,” Walker said after Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky. “I’ve always visualized winning the Heisman but I never really put it down.”
He started the season as an unexpected candidate and still is a dark horse, especially in a quarterback-driven sport. His first game as a Spartan started with a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game at Northwestern. He finished the night with 264 yards and four touchdowns, an indicator of just how special Walker is capable of being.
Since then, he has not stopped.
Walker has yet to repeat his 264 yards and four touchdown debut and may never again, but he has been an absolute stud in four out of MSU’s five games in 2021.
Week two versus Youngstown state: Walker had 57 yards and one touchdown, nothing flashy at all. But, he achieved that on just seven total carries while riding the bench for a considerable amount of time due to the game being out of hand.
Week three at Miami: 27 carries, 172 yards. Walker’s only three catches were made in that game, adding 17 yards and a touchdown to his 172 rushing yards. He probably could have had another, too, as Michigan State scored an additional three touchdowns inside 11 yards.
Week four, versus Nebraska: 19 carries, 61 yards and zero touchdowns. He struggled, the offensive line struggled, and Payton Throne struggled. Everyone on that offense was a victim of one anothers’ miscues. It is not a pass but had Walker had holes to attack, who knows what the box score would have looked like.
Then came Saturday's game. The Michigan State offense needed to make a statement. It needed to bounce back after a putrid second-half performance in the previous game against Nebraska.
All of MSU’s offensive stars showed up Saturday night. Redshirt sophomore Payton Thorne threw for a career-high 327 yards without any turnovers. Wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor both went over 127 yards. However, Walker was the star that shined the brightest, yet again.
Coming into the game, Walker led the country in rushing yards. With 126 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, he made a great effort to stay on top of that throne.
He didn't break any runs loose, his longest run on the night was 15 yards, but he consistently gave the Spartans yards when they needed it. He fell forward, churned his legs and fought for every single inch possible; all the nitty-gritty fundamentals taught to running backs. He made countless defenders whiff on tackle attempts.
It was not completely jaw-dropping. Well, except for this hurdle on his second touchdown of the night.
Walker's attitude has not changed much almost halfway through the season. He said it after his monstrous Northwestern performance and reiterated it Saturday night.
“A lot of the time linemen don’t get a lot of credit, or the wide receivers,” Walker said. “They did a great job tonight of making my job easy.”
The Spartans are playing with confidence, particularly on offense. They have chemistry and seem to be on the same page, more often than not, and Walker is a big part of that. He correctly predicted Reed would return the game’s first punt for a touchdown, to Thorne, on the sideline.
“I have a lot of confidence in all my guys, really,” Walker said. “I see how much work they put in at practice and then it shows in the game.”
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Walker always thinks of the team first, even with his personal goals in mind. He also wrote down other goals on March 8, such as winning the Big Ten and National Championships. Now, with a 5-0 start and a likely crack into the AP top-15, week by week, those long-shot goals are starting to feel just a tad bit more attainable.
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