Growing up in Miami, there was only one place Anthony Walker wanted his football career to take him: the University of Miami.
He wanted to don the orange and green “U” and play in the historic Orange Bowl.
“That’s everybody’s childhood dream, to play for the hometown team,” Walker said. “For us, it was the University of Miami, and that’s it. You couldn’t tell us anything else. It was Miami and who they played against.”
Walker isn’t really exaggerating. When Miami — along with every other big-time program in Florida — didn’t offer him a scholarship, Walker’s father told him about Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, which Walker didn’t even realize plays major college football in the Big Ten.
But, as he said, “you gotta like who like you.”
Walker visited the school, liked the fit and decided that’s where he wanted to go.
Walker and his family took pride in academics, which made Northwestern a good fit off the field. U.S. News and World Report ranks it No. 9 among universities nationally.
He majored in learning and organizational management, with a minor in marketing, and graduated with a 3.2 GPA. That was all while playing at a high level at linebacker for the Wildcats.
In three seasons at Northwestern — he took a redshirt his freshman season in 2013 — Walker tallied 276 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles. He received All-American honors in 2015 and was an Academic All-Big Ten selection his final season in 2016.
The Colts selected him in the fifth round of the 2017 draft.
Walker said taking academics seriously has helped him on the field.
“The test is on Sunday, and you’ve got a week to prepare,” he said. “You’ve got your tutors, which are your coaches in football. That’s a little weird to say, but that’s how it is.”
For Walker, coaches are also future employers. He wants to be involved with an NFL team after he’s done playing. Walker’s not sure what that means exactly, although he doesn’t think he’ll want to put in the necessary hours to be a coach.
But if his career takes a normal arc, Walker will be done playing football in his 30s. He’s paid well enough now — Walker will have made about $2.6 million with the Colts before he becomes a free agent in 2021 — but most NFL players won’t make a lifetime’s worth of cash during their careers.
The way Walker sees it, he’s networking with his coaches now. There’s a chance that by the time he’s ready for a career transition, some of those coaches will be in positions to make hiring decisions.
“You gotta be able to show ‘he can be a coach for me someday’ or something like that,” Walker said.
This approach is part of a larger commitment to success that doesn’t hinge on being a physically dominant football player. Football was good for a free education, Walker said, but life requires more initiative than that. Even after he became an NFL player, Walker did an internship with the Miami Heat marketing department.
“If you put all your eggs in this basket, you’ll strike out real fast,” he said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.