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'One of the best moments of my life': six walk-ons receive football scholarships
Gary Walker, who recorded a safety last season on his first college play, was one of six walk-ons to receive scholarships for 2017.

Aug. 18, 2017

By Jeff Shearer
AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala. - When his sister started crying tears of joy, Gary Walker felt his eyes watering, too.

"It was one of the happiest phone calls I've ever made home," said Walker. "My sister started crying. That kind of messed me up a little bit."

Walker and five fellow Auburn walk-ons received scholarships Thursday, the highlight of Auburn's rookie night festivities.

"Exhilarating," said Walker, a sophomore defensive lineman, whose father, Gary Walker Sr., played for Auburn from 1993-94. "It was one of the best and most honorable moments of my life, to know that all of that hard work had finally paid off. I appreciate the coaches and the coaching staff for the opportunity they've given me."

Receivers Will Hastings and Griffin King, fullback Keenan Sweeney, linebacker Chase Ritter and tight end Tucker Brown also received scholarships.

"Anytime you can award a scholarship to a well-deserving young man is a special feeling and all six of those guys definitely earned it," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Especially me being a former walk-on, it's even more special. Really proud of those guys."

<em> Will Hastings made three receptions in Auburn's 2016 season opener.</em>

Will Hastings made three receptions in Auburn's 2016 season opener.

"I was super excited," said Hastings, a junior who made 11 catches and scored a touchdown last season. "Living my dream and showing people that I can do it. I've had some people walk up to me and say, `You're a real inspiration to a lot of people,' so that means a lot. That's a testimony to me, my family and all of the people who supported me."

King texted his family as soon as the meeting ended, leading to a congratulatory call from his brother, Gray, a former Auburn walk-on receiver.

"My brother called me two seconds after the text went through," Griffin said. "He was just really excited for me. I'm lucky to have him as someone to support me."

Like Will Hastings, Griffin King, No. 89, is a 5-10 receiver.

Like Will Hastings, Griffin King, No. 89, is a 5-10 receiver.

While the receivers, Hastings and King, had a hunch they might hear their names called, Ritter was caught unaware.

"I wasn't expecting that," Ritter said. "I was ecstatic. That was big time. It's a great honor just to be part of this team. This team has been a tremendous blessing to me. There are very few times in life where you get to be around this kind of group. We have such leadership on this team, and great character."

Chase Ritter was not expecting to hear his name called when Auburn awarded scholarships on Thursday.

Chase Ritter was not expecting to hear his name called when Auburn awarded scholarships on Thursday.

When Malzahn announced the scholarship recipients' names, their teammates cheered loudly.

"To know that all of the teammates were behind me, when everyone went nuts, it was surreal," Brown said. "To play in general, regardless of scholarship or not, is just a dream come true. I've always been a true Auburn fan. It's very humbling. I appreciate all of the coaches who believed I was deserving."

For Sweeney, who also granted a scholarship last season, the prospect of earning the honor again motivated him.

"I'm blessed to do this," Sweeney said. "I'm grateful that Coach Malzahn and this coaching staff gave me another chance. I just want to help this team. It doesn't matter if I'm playing scout team, running with the No. 2s or playing special teams, even signaling plays, I just want to help. I'm very proud. It's very humbling."

Tucker Brown at Friday's practice, one day after being awarded a scholarship.

Tucker Brown at Friday's practice, one day after being awarded a scholarship.

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:

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