By Marcus Etienne
Throughout the entire 2019 football season it didn’t hit Gary Walker.
Then, all of the sudden, “it” hit him hard.
The “it” was the fact that Stephens County High School graduate and former Indian football standout Gary Walker had played his very last snap on the collegiate gridiron.
“It did not hit me that this was my last season until my very last game,” Walker, who was playing for Auburn University, said. “That was when it hit me. When it was all over, as soon as the last snap was taken, I went to the locker room and thought to myself I have to get ready for next year. I am done playing football at the collegiate level.”
When the now former Auburn defensive lineman headed back to the locker room after a 31-24 Outback Bowl loss, he realized this was his last time being a football player for the Tigers.
Walker has been part of the Auburn program for the past five years.
Walker grew up being a part of a program that is like family to him.
His father, Gary Walker, had been a part of the Auburn program before he had an 11-year career in the NFL.
The younger Walker wants to follow in his father’s footsteps and play in the NFL.
Walker said he is training for the next level while pursuing his master’s degree in agriculture.
During his time as an Auburn Tiger he has compiled multiple fond memories that he will never forget.
One of those memories came fairly recently in his senior year.Walker was a part of arguably one of the greatest college football games ever played.
Last November, the Tigers won the Iron Bowl against Alabama in one of the most peculiar endings ever.
Auburn triumphed 48-45 at home on Walker’s Senior Day.
In the nerve-racking game, the Crimson Tide had an opportunity to tie the ball game late in the fourth quarter with the score 48-45.
But, Joseph Bulovas of Alabama missed a 30-yard field goal try that would have tied the game with time still on the clock.
“Honestly, I was thinking if they make this, we have a chance to score. If they miss this, we’re going to win this football game and they missed that field goal,” Walker said. “I just knew the game was over. When he kicked it and it hit the upright and it made that dooo sound I was like ‘yup, ball game. See y’all.”
With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Auburn got the ball to try to run the clock out.
On that drive, the Tigers faced a fourth and four situation.
Alabama put their punt team on the field since the Auburn punter came out on the field, but the punter was lined up as a wide receiver after Auburn broke their huddle.
That caused mass confusion for the Crimson Tide while they were in the midst of putting their defense back on the field but their punt returner was still on the field which caused them to have 12 men on the field.
Due to that Alabama was called for illegal substitution which gave Auburn a fresh set of downs to get in a victory formation.Walker credits his quarterback for notifying the referees on that play.
“I knew what was going on. I was more impressed with Bo (Nix) catching it, our quarterback,” Walker said. “I was more impressed with him catching on to it like he did because if he did not catch on to it and did not alert the referee, Alabama probably would have gotten away with it.”
The game was a back-and-forth contest for the former Indian with many ups and downs.
“Every other down someone was scoring,” Walker said. “Every other down you were happy or stressed out. It was an emotional roller coaster. Glad that we pulled it out at the end. It was a crazy game probably one of the best games in college football.”
After the game, thousands of Auburn fans poured out on the field to ignite an on field Tiger celebration. The rushing of the field was something that the fifth year senior was used to after winning big games as a Tiger.
“It was what I expected. I knew the fans were going to rush on the field,” Walker said. “I remember in 2017, we beat Alabama and Georgia in the same year and both of them were No. 1,” Walker said. “When we beat Alabama, we could not even get the guys in the locker room. We stayed on the field for an extra hour because the fans would not move out of the way. This year it was kind of the same thing too,” he said.
To be able to beat a rival school twice in his time at Auburn was something he was proud of, Walker said.
Despite the intense in-state rivalry between the two schools Walker has a more personal hate for another rival school.
That school is the University of Georgia, a university that is just an hour’s drive from his former high school.
During his time at SCHS, UGA offered him an opportunity to walk-on to their program.
Walker was not down for it. So he decided to go to somewhere that had family ties to him.
“Georgia did not think I was good enough to play in the SEC so I said if I was going to walk-on anywhere I’m going to take my talents to Auburn,” Walker said.“Georgia wanted me to walk-on I was just like naww, if I am going to walk-on anywhere it would be for Auburn. A lot of people were trying to get me to go to Georgia but I could not do it,” he said.
It’s a decision that he says he hasn’t regretted. That decision helped him earn a scholarship to play for the Tigers, the memory of his very first play as a Tiger when he tackled a quarterback for a safety and winning the Iron Bowl on Senior Day.
The SCHS graduate earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics while playing for Auburn. The former Indian said he experienced a lot of low moments – from grinding it out as a walk-on to earning a scholarship on the team to eventually for him to get to where he is today.
Through all of that he said he remained motivated.
“I did not want to come back home without nothing to show for it,” Walker said. “I did not want to come back home without a degree. I realize I may not be able to go to the NFL but I am going to at least come back home with a degree and an education that I graduated from a pristine university.”
In addition to playing football at SCHS, Walker was a state runner-up in wrestling.