When running back Kenneth Walker III entered the transfer portal and soon landed at Michigan State one year ago, he didn’t envision himself being where he was Wednesday.
He stood in front of a swarm of reporters offering his final remarks as a Spartan succeding a limited participation in Michigan State’s Pro Day. He wasn’t limited because he was injured nor because he was a longshot to be selected at the NFL Draft. He was limited due to an excellent showing at the scouting combine two weeks prior.
“I ain’t going to lie to you, I wasn’t expecting a 4.38,” Walker said of his 40-yard dash time, which was third-best among running backs. “I was expecting like low 4.4s but when I had seen a 4.38 I got pretty excited.”
Lots of records and expectations were shattered last fall with Walker at the forefront. He was named the Walter Camp National Player of the Year, Big Ten Running Back of the Year, a recipient of the Doak Walker Award and finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting while placing top in the nation in numerous rushing records.
Now, he’s penciled in to begin a new MSU streak, becoming the first Spartan drafted to the NFL in two years after the 80-year streak was broken last spring. Walker completed one of the major steps of the draft process along with 14 others at MSU’s Pro Day, highlighting his agility and elusiveness.
Walker made his official decision Dec. 16, 2021 to enter his name into the NFL Draft, with the guidance of Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker, former running backs coach William Peagler and former offensive assistant and new running backs coach Effrem Reed. In doing so, Walker opted out of Michigan State’s Peach Bowl and watched on T.V. from East Lansing – a rarity for Walker, who almost never watches football.
“I was glued to the TV,” Walker said of the Spartans’ win over Pittsburgh. “We was down early and so I told my mom – I can go back on the text — I told her how we still gonna come back and win and that’s what they did. They pulled it out.”
It was a tough decision for Walker to sit out and watch his teammates compete in the meaningful game without him. From the first snap of the season, he took for a 75-yard touchdown at Northwestern to the snow angel celebration after his last game in green and white, he’s always attributed his teammates before himself.
Was it a good play call? Sure. Was there good blocking? Probably. But those who paid close attention to MSU’s 11-2 season are well aware it was Walker who made the dazzling play. After all, he was an enormous reason they made a New Year’s Six Bowl. However, even as he continued to set records seemingly every Saturday, never once did he pat himself on the back before patting a teammate’s.
And when asked Wednesday if he believes he should be the first running back selected in the draft, as many experts have predicted, still, not once did he toot his own horn. It’s just who he is.
“It’s a lot of great backs,” Walker said. “I would love to be taken first obviously but wherever I am taken I’m gonna make my opportunity count and go as hard as I can.”
In the meantime, Walker has been training in Pensacola, Florida to sharpen up his skills. He participated in the NFL Scouting Combine with wide receiver Jalen Nailor and tight end Connor Heyward, who has been one of his best buddies since he arrived on campus. Heyward took Walker under his wing, guiding him through the ins and outs of Michigan State both on and off the field. It only made sense for them to train together in Pensacola, in spite of their position differences.
“Honestly, we’re just like ‘Let’s have fun with it,’” Heyward said. “‘You push me, I push you at the end of the day. Let’s get the best out of each other, but let’s have fun. Let’s smile. Let’s laugh. Let’s be ourselves.’”
Six weeks out from the draft, Walker will soon say his farewells to East Lansing and start his final preparations for the draft. It includes physical tune-ups as well as interviews and visits with NFL teams. He will watch the draft with his family rather than traveling to Las Vegas, but despite spending just one of his three collegiate seasons at MSU, Walker considers East Lansing to be his home.
“I love coming back here,” Walker said. “You know, being able to talk to everybody. Even being around the city of East Lansing the people are so kind, come up to me and talk to me. It's great to be here.”
As for the future of Michigan State, Walker leaves behind a trailblazing legacy. He's demonstrated the limitless potential of Tucker's program and as General Manager/Executive Director of Player Personnel and Recruiting Saeed Khalif admitted, a few more recruits have started to pick up the phone or answer messages who previously wouldn't have cared for MSU.
But as always, it will continue to be a two-way street between Walker and the fanbase, which has been reenergized and put back on the national map.
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“I appreciate them for everything they did, you know, supporting the whole team and just taking me in,” Walker said. “I'm forever grateful for that.”
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