By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - One play, two points, 104 wildly enthusiastic teammates.
It's hard to have a more productive debut than Gary Walker. In his first snap of college football, the redshirt freshman defensive lineman tackled Louisiana-Monroe's quarterback in the end zone for a safety, the exclamation point in Auburn's 58-7 Homecoming win.
"It was a great experience to have," Gary says. "The more important part about it was that my whole team met me before I even got close to the sideline. That's the greatest thing anybody could ever ask for. Especially being here at this place. Auburn's my home. To get a welcome like that after making a big play, it's something special."
Auburn is Gary's home because Auburn is the home of his father, who's also named Gary Walker. Their literal home is a ranch in Toccoa in Stephens County, Georgia, where they raise cattle and chickens.
Auburn is their figurative home. Where the father came in 1993 after two Junior College Hall of Fame-worthy seasons. As a senior in '94, he tied the school record with 11 sacks, which stood until 2010 when Nick Fairley got 11.5.
Against ULM, the son had received a tip from teammate Carl Lawson, a clue that told him when the ball would be snapped.
"I wasn't nervous. I didn't have any goosebumps. I was ready," Gary says. "My heart stopped when the ball was snapped. And as soon as I saw the quarterback stick his head up, I said, `I've got to pull the pin on him right now.' After that, the rest is history."
While the son celebrated - "That was awesome. Words really can't describe something like that when you feel it for the first time but it was amazing." -- the father beamed.
"I was proud of him," the elder Walker says. "He's been working hard. His hard work paid off. Just made the best of that one shot."
"When they got to see that, they were overjoyed," says the son. "But my dad, out of all people, he was the most proud. He told me that, because of my work ethic, I deserved to have something like that."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) October 2, 2016
"I knew what I was capable of"
The father played 11 seasons in the NFL. The son was a straight-A student in high school, the MVP of his team. But at 5-11, he was not inundated with scholarship offers.
"I had some offers from some small schools but I really was under the radar when I came out," says the younger Walker. "So I decided to walk on here at Auburn. Being short, the shortest D-lineman in the SEC. The one thing I had to bring with me was my work ethic. I knew what I was capable of."
"You can measure height, speed, weight and all that stuff," says the father. "But he's got something you can't measure and that's heart. Everybody wants things to look a certain way on the field, but you can't put a tape measure on the heart of a person. He's got a lot of heart."
As a scout teamer, it's Walker's job to help simulate the defense the Tigers' offense will face each week.
"I'm just a football player," he says. "That's my role. If I get playing time this year, that'll be fine. But if it's just the scout team, that's fine, too, because I'm making those guys in front of me better. As long as they're getting pancakes, and they're driving off blocks, I'm fine with that. That makes me happy."
"That says a lot about his character and who he is," says the elder Walker. "He's a young player there. That's the way I told him coming up, `You just kind of wait your turn. When your opportunity presents, you've just got to make sure you're prepared.' He takes pride in going out there. He calls me every day after practice, telling me how well he's done. On days he doesn't have such great days, he tells me about that as well. We talk football every day."
Playing on the scout team isn't glamorous. But it does have its benefits.
"I told him, `Really and truly, you're getting more out of that right now, than if you were a third-stringer over there with the other guys watching,'" says dad. "He's getting reps. He's getting taught. You're going against guys. A couple of those offensive linemen we have right now will be on NFL teams, if not starting on NFL teams next year.
"It's not every day you get to go against that quality of a guy. That big 71, our right guard (Braden Smith), I'd put him up there with the other guards in the SEC. He's a big, strong, prototypical looking lineman."
"The perfect kind of blueprint"
Practicing against future pros. Growing up as the son of a two-time Pro Bowler. Every time Gary Sr. turned on the video, school was in session.
"He doesn't brag about it or anything like that, but he lays out certain things that he wants me to understand about the way to play the game," the younger Walker says. "He'll tell me about hand work, or how he did it back when he played. I'll catch his old films now and then. Seeing what my dad did, it gives me the perfect kind of blueprint.
"I can't really find any flaws, because he's my dad," Gary says. "I try to find a flaw every now and then. We argue about it. `What are you looking at, boy? That's how we used to play it back then.' I'm like, `Back then.'"
The father wore No. 96. The son wears No. 97. That's what you call trying to one-up your dad.
"He's my son," the former Tiger says. "And I was proud of him before that one play. But this is what I say, when his opportunity comes, he'll be prepared, and he'll play hard, and he'll continue to work hard. As long as he gets an opportunity, he's going to do what's called for him to do."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) October 2, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer