ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A young woman walks into a local Starbucks and orders a drink. She goes to pay when the barista says it’s already paid for. Someone came in and bought a round for the house.
Who did that, asks the young woman.
It's a true story, as a tipster told 9News, and the Broncos’ defensive lineman later reluctantly confirmed.
“I’ve done a lot of generous things for the city of Denver that is done behind the scenes,’’ Walker said in a Zoom interview with 9News last week. “One day I might share and I might not. But yeah, especially after a great ‘W’ like last Sunday, I went by Starbucks twice.’’
His generosity comes in impulses, and by planned design. And his magnanimity comes win or lose. Since the regular season began, Walker has been bringing in fried chicken for his teammates every Friday.
“There’s a spot called Vons Chicken, shout out to them,’’ Walker said of the establishment in Aurora. “The corporate CEO in Korea actually reached out to me, and they said in Korea they love to hear that the Denver Broncos are eating their chicken. Every Friday, I always bless the team to where – we play as a team, and I always get fried chicken for everybody. You love fried chicken. You ought to try it out. It’s called Vons Chicken, it’s very good. We love it, and it’s not about a win-or-loss thing. We play as a team.’’
Yes, Walker is making $1.15 million, but that makes him the 27th-highest-paid player on the team. It's safe to say there are guys making better than $10 million a year who have never bought coffee drinks for a store of strangers. Where does Walker's giving spirit come from?
“I’m going to do something different,’’ Walker said. “Being here for going on four years and not having the type of seasons that we had – I’m a two-time captain at Florida State for a reason. And I had to learn my way around here. I had to learn how to get out of my shell. I’m trying to do something different. I’m trying to build team chemistry.
“I’m a winner. I’m trying to do something different. We’ve tried everything on the field different. So this is something off the field, within the protocols, where we can bond as a team.’’
Walker’s NFL career hasn’t gone as he thought when he came out of Florida State, where he had 16.0 sacks as a senior to finish second in the nation, a half-sack less behind Boston College’s Harold Landry. The Broncos took him in the second round. He figured he would immediately make an impact in his new professional league, as all high-round drafted rookies do.
And then, surprisingly, the Broncos couldn’t figure out where to play him. They told him to lose weight and move to outside linebacker, only to later tell him to gain weight and play defensive end. He only played in 13 games through his first two seasons combined and had 2.0 sacks total.
But to his credit, Walker adjusted. Instead of sulking about his limited playing time, he began to accept that a rotational role is important to the team’s cause, as well. Did you see the Broncos after they beat the Chargers, 31-30 last week at Empower Field at Mile High on a final-play touchdown and extra point? No one expressed more joy than Walker.
He had 4.0 sacks in just 10 games last year. And now with Jurrell Casey and Mike Purcell suffering season-ending injuries, and Shelby Harris staying back because of COVID-19 contact quarantine reasons, Walker should get the second start of his NFL career on Sunday when the Broncos play the Falcons at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“Absolutely, it was very difficult,’’ Walker said. “Like I said, being a two-time captain and being the guy at Florida State, ACC Defensive Player of the year, led the whole country in sacks. High second-round draft pick. Great.
“So it was a gut check. As men in life, you go through a moment to where, ‘Hey, this shows if you want it or not.’ You don’t think there wasn’t anyone else who was in this situation before me? From Shane Ray to Shaq Barrett to Adam Gotsis to Bradley Roby who didn’t get the fifth-year option.
“The reason I’ve been so successful is I’m a very wise person. I learn from mistakes. My dad used to have this saying growing up, 'You can learn a lot from a dummy, just don’t be one.' It was a gut check. I’m still here. We’ve still got a lot more games left.’’
He will be counted on to step up and play one of his best games Sunday.
“Opportunity meets preparation,’’ he said. “Opportunity meets preparation, and I’m going to leave it at that.”
Atlanta’s quarterback Matt Ryan is one of the league’s best and has been for the better part of a decade. But like most pocket quarterbacks, he struggles against pressure.
“Matt is a great quarterback, obviously. Hall of Famer, and you see he’s leading the NFL in passing (yards) also,’’ Walker said. “So when opportunity presents itself, you’ve got to get ready, and whatever coach (Vic) Fangio calls, we just have to stick together and play together as a team.’’
Walker lives in a Denver community and works for a Broncos’ franchise where COVID-19 cases have recently spiked.
“It’s global. Around America there’s spikes,’’ he said. “But to honest with you, I feel like as an entire NFL, we’ve done a great job of handling this situation and making sure there’s football every Sunday. If not till Tuesday. And I tip my hat to the whole NFL, to the whole Denver Broncos, to coach Fangio, to all the coaches, all the fans, all the families that sacrificed till this moment and these next three months so we can finish football. We handled it well, and everybody adjusted, and we just got to take it one day at a time.”
Those days will soon tick away to an uncertain future for Walker. After this season, he will become a free agent. The way the business of football works, this means he could be less than two months away from finishing out his stay with the Broncos. Has he thought about his future, which is shouldering to his present?
“No, not at all,’’ he said. “Just control what I can control. It’s been a time here, right? For four years. But all I can do is control what I can control and go play football.”
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