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August 6, 2012Joe Walker isn't who you probably think he is; some kind of gruff disciplinarian only concerned with making kids lift and run to their limits.
It's easy to get that impression because Walker just roams the sidelines when the Red Raiders are in public. He just wants the position coaches to coach and the players to play. His work is performed behind closed doors away from all non-team personnel.
The coach further becomes a mystery because he rarely ever talks to the media.
So basically there's this guy on campus who inherits 18-year-old high school players and makes them do certain exercises and runs and by the time they're 19 they are some of the fittest men on the planet who we don't know all that much about.
Who is Joe Walker?
He explained after our interview he likes to be low key because the players are the people accomplishing something.
We know the players like Walker.
At least in retrospect when they see the positive gains they are making. When they perform at a higher level in practice and on game day.
"His workouts are great," senior center Deveric Gallington said. "First hand I can tell you I've been here five years and this is by far the best summer we had as a group. Joe Walker does a great job with the strength and conditioning program. We're ready for camp because of him and the season as well. I'm really excited to be back on the field after those workouts."
It's not just about weights and running.
Walker is also very good at helping injured players return to full strength. Just look at the progress the Red Raiders have made from the injury riddled 2011 campaign, most notably running backs Eric Stephens and DeAndre Washington's return from traumatic knee injuries.
On top of that, Walker sets the tone to the upcoming season because he is in charge of the summer conditioning program while the other coaches are limited in the summer months due to NCAA rules.
"The biggest accomplishment for the team was not an individual accomplishment," Walker said while recapping the offseason. "The amount of leadership that was there was unusual. We have a huge rule here that you don't bend over ever in the weight room or on the field and we had a pretty big number tell them to get up before I even had to.
"For us, that's going to be a heck of a lot more important than the number you squat or that you sprint. Leadership is something that can truly carry over to the playing field."
This 2012 team was forged through adversity. The injuries, the 5-7 record and then through resistance training and running that pushed the players to their mental limits.
And out of it the team is getting things like D.J. Johnson's 'Chain Gang' initiative.
"The best thing I heard, and I'm stealing this from someone, they were talking about legacy," Walker said. "Legacy is what you taught the people below you that are coming up in maturing. It's not so much your stats and stuff like that. It's what you're teaching the younger people.
"We had some great senior leadership from Gallington and LaAdrian Waddle. Seth Doege, of course, has been all over it and rightfully so. He's been a great leader and backs it up on the field. Eric Stephens just work ethic wise has had a great offseason coming back from injury. Receiver wise Darrin Moore has had a great offseason. Eric Ward had a great offseason. Javon Bell[db], [db]Marcus Kennard had a great offseason."
Then there's that defense that struggled so much last season.
"Dennell Wesley, Leon Mackey showed up and came to work every single day. Kerry Hyder was a vocal leader. Linebacker wise, Blake Dees, Sam Eguavoen and Will Smith came to work every single day. All of them are really quiet, but work ethic wise they led by example. Cornerback wise, Cornelius Douglas and Eugene Neboh. Neboh verbally and Douglas work ethic was through the roof."
Then Mr. Chain Gang himself.
"D.J. Johnson is very, very verbal and Cody Davis had his best offseason for as long as I've been here."
Back at the mechanical level, and something you can take away for your own routines, Walker said it's more about nutrition and changing it up than it is the specific workouts.
"There are multiple ways to skin a cat," Walker said. "But there is still a wrong way to skin a cat. You've got to be an ever-revolving program. If you do the same things for four years, you're going to get good at one thing. When you have them for four years you've got to make sure they get good at multiple things because that's the way the body works.
"Nutrition is the most important thing because it's one of the things that can actually make you a better football player. I've seen a lot of people who are really good in the weight room and really bad at football. Nutrition will make you a better football player for the simple reason it gives you energy out there. Nutrition is huge. They'll come in and get a pre-workout shake. They're allowed to get a middle workout shake. They're allowed to get a post-workout shake. They're allowed to take three shakes home, three bars home. We give them bagels. We've got to replace the calories we take from them. If you don't replace those calories they're going to get a pulled groin or a pulled hamstring or a pulled quad or something."
Then Walker really hammered down the nutrition point.
"We talk to them about nutrition all the time," he said. "We tell them their body is a shrine. What they put in their body really matters. We talk about the right kinds of protein, the right kinds of carbs, fat, vitamins, minerals, hydration, pre-workout meals, post-workout meals, you name it.
"We don't expect them to be regular dieticians, but they've got to understand what they put into their bodies."
So who is Joe Walker?
Part of the answer is he is the man that physically builds the players. But the answer also entails the fact at the forefront of forging leadership through physically building the players up.
That is who Joe Walker is.