ATHENS, Ga. – Picture an 11-year-old boy in Texas named Christian. He's an accomplished track runner and gymnast, and he walks into his school, he abruptly tells his doting father, “Dad, no, no, no, you’re embarrassing. Get back.”
Herschel Walker sits down Thursday with his former UGA head coach Vince Dooley. (Photos courtesy of Steve Colquitt/UGA Sports Communications).
Herschel Walker recalls this with a laugh.
“I was like, ‘How could I be embarrassing?'" Walker said.
So the ultimate Bulldog football legend is now like any old parent?
Well, not quite.
Now 49 years old, Walker wears many more helmets now than when he tormented opposing SEC defenses from 1980-82, winning a national title, Heisman Trophy and setting pages full of rushing records at UGA that will never be touched. He still basically looks the same as he did way back then, flexing his arm and saying, “I haven’t changed one thing, and I’m healthy as a horse. All the doctors, they always want to test me and stuff. And I’m not on steroids. All this is natural.”
It’s that everything around Walker has changed. Then a football star, Walker is now a father in his home in Dallas. He’s also an owner of companies and hospitals and, to top it all off, he’s now a suddenly successful fighter on the MMA circuit.
Walker took time from his schedule to return to UGA on Thursday, visiting with everyone from his former coach Vince Dooley to current basketball coach Mark Fox.
“Every time things get tough, I know this is home,” he said. “This is family.”
He planned to speak to the Bulldogs’ football players for the first time in “a while,” and maybe get the chance to work out with a few of the players Friday.
Walker visits with Mike Cavan, the assistant coach who recruited him out of high school, at Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall on Thursday.
“When I first came to Georgia, we were not the best team in college football,” Walker said. “We were not the biggest. We were not the fastest. But I guarantee you there was not one team in America that could play as a unit better than we could.
“And that’s one thing I want to stress to this team here. I don’t care what someone outside of this organization says. What matters is what people inside this organization says, but the only way you’re going to get there is to do it out there right now. There’s going to be days like this when it’s extremely hot, but you’ve got to go get it.”
Here’s more from Herschel’s Thursday interview session …
On incoming freshman running back Isaiah Crowell …
“It’s never fair to compare any running backs or any athletes, because there are different generations and different teams. But he has got so much talent, and people are looking for a lot from him. The advice I’d give him is to do his thing. You can’t worry about what people think about you. … Right now, everyone is looking for him to go out and just carry his team, but all he’s got to do is carry his position, carry what he’s supposed to do, and most of all enjoy it.”
On pressure during his own freshman year at UGA …
“You’re going to think I’m crazy. I was too stupid to know I had any pressure. I just came to practice and to play. I didn’t think about any pressure. Maybe it was the surroundings I had. The organization was so well done. The pressure was just to play, not to go out and do whatever I was doing. I never felt any pressure at all. … My freshman year when I was up for the Heisman Trophy, I didn’t even know what the Heisman Trophy was, because I didn’t follow football growing up. … It is embarrassing to win the Heisman. It is embarrassing for me, because there’s no way I did all that myself. I tell people all the time, if you know football – and I’m being honest – if you know football, go look at when I played from my freshman year to my sophomore year. You will never see an offensive line better than what I ran behind. They never got the credit they deserved, but if you look at it, I didn’t get hit hardly ever. You’ll never see get hit behind the line hardly ever.”
On his own recruiting experience …
“I’m going to be honest: I didn’t want to go to Georgia. … All my family and everybody in my hometown is wanting me to go to Georgia, and being a rebellious teenager, you didn’t want to do what they want you to do, so I didn’t want to go. But that was the best decision that I ever made. … “Nobody wanted me to go to Clemson in Wrightsville, my home. So I flipped a coin between Georgia and Clemson, and Georgia won the first flip, and I said, ‘Best out of five.’ Georgia won the next two times. Then I said, ‘I’m going to go to USC.’ Georgia won three times, and I ended up pulling names out of a bad. I pulled Georgia all three times. My mother says sometimes, ‘When you’re naïve and stupid, God will take care of you.’”
On if he’d ever consider coaching …
“No. I’d probably kill someone if I get into coaching. My thing is I don’t have patience.”
On the most physically taxing of all his athletic pursuits …
“There’s no doubt MMA is very taxing. It’s strange. You step into a cage or octagon across from someone, and with me they are literally wanting to take my head off. They really want to hurt me, because they don’t feel I should be there anyway. You’re going to hit someone in the face with some four-ounce gloves or somebody is going to try to break your arm or your leg, that can be pretty taxing. That’s pretty difficult, but I love it anyway. I’ve got so many personalities. One of them likes MMA, so the other one played football.”
On television opportunities …
“It’s funny. The very first year (“Dancing With The Stars”) came out, they asked me about being on it, and I couldn’t do it. To be honest, I thought it was going to be a cheesy show. I didn’t know it was going to be a hit. Evander Holyfield took my place, because, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. I may pop up somewhere crazy.”
On the idea of schools legally being able paying athletes in NCAA sports …
“I think that’s a great idea. I think any scholarship athlete should get some type of stipend. I think that would be great, because the times have changed, and I think we’ve got to change with the times. When you have athletes that can’t even go out and buy anything, I think that would be great. I don’t know $300 or what they should pay, but I think they should receive something. That’s what I want to do. I want to try to see if I could elected onto the board of the NCAA. How can I get onto that? … If I was on the NCAA right now, one thing I’d do is I’d get rulings a lot faster than what they’re doing. Right now, you’re punishing universities when kids are gone. Those kids ain’t got nothing to do with what happened.”
On his son …
“Being in Texas, everybody tells him he’s going to Texas. I told him, ‘They’re crazy. You’re going to Georgia no matter what.’”