FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — News of Arkansas running back Kody Walker’s career-ending foot injury went public in mid-October. He was grateful for — and moved by — the outpouring of support from Arkansas fans, both in person and on social media.
Walker wasn’t interested, though, in any despondency or sentiment that included the words “Oh no! Not again!”
Walker looks at his life and sees too much positive to be consumed by regret or self-pity.
He sees a future augmented by everything he’s experienced — good and bad — during his six seasons in Fayetteville. He’s thankful for all 179 rushes, 754 yards and 14 touchdowns. The 39 wins and 33 losses. The three head coaches, four offensive coordinators and four position coaches.
Even each of the eight surgeries he’s undergone in six seasons.
Then at home, there’s the 1-year-old stinker whose mere mention elicits a broad smile and a few anecdotes about all the things little Kaison gets into now that he can walk.
There are the young Arkansas running backs who still rely on the elder statesman they affectionately call “grandpa.” Heck, you can widen Walker’s leadership role to include the entire team. He is still a captain, after all.
Arkansas fans will see him in that capacity Saturday on Senior Night when Walker — the last remaining Hog who played for Bobby Petrino — plans to roll to midfield on his scooter and participate in the pregame coin toss just before Arkansas hosts rival LSU.
“It’s been wild,” Walker said of his career during a recent interview with SEC Country. “But being able to persevere through everything has made me so strong.
“I feel like I can get through anything.”
He grew up in Jefferson City, Mo., with a single mother who despises negativity. Any whining or complaining to Twila Walker was met with a forceful “cut it out.”
“She was always that person in my life who kept me going and kept pushing me,” Kody said.
Walker became a star running back at Jefferson City High, setting school records for single-season and career carries.
He eventually chose to sign with Arkansas despite a scholarship offer from his home-state school, Missouri.
“Arkansas felt like home,” Walker said. “Every Friday night, everyone was at Adkins Stadium watching the Jays. I felt that same support here; it’s just magnified because it’s a whole state instead of just one town.”
Walker carried the ball 478 times in high school and never suffered an injury that required surgery. He carved out an early role for himself as an Arkansas true freshman, scoring 5 touchdowns in 3 games as a short-yardage specialist.
Then, the injuries began.
- A stress fracture in his shin cost Walker the final 10 games of his true freshman season — when the Hogs finished 11-2 and ranked in the top 5.
- The Petrino fiasco happened during the ensuing spring, and then in the second game of the 2012 season — played under interim head coach John L. Smith — Walker broke his leg.
- He missed four games as a fifth-year junior in 2015 because of a broken hand.
- Last spring, Walker broke his right foot.
- Surgery and the subsequent rehab went well, Walker said, but he re-injured the same foot during fall camp.
He tried toughing it out through the first six games of the season — recording 31 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown — but the pain eventually became too much to bear.
He wrestled with the decision for weeks before ultimately deciding after the Oct. 8 Alabama game to end his college career and have another surgery.
“He was just in so much pain,” said Lauren Coons, Walker’s longtime girlfriend.
Said Walker: “I felt like I was giving everything I could, but it wasn’t up to the standards I’ve set for myself. I wasn’t giving the team what it needed, and that didn’t sit well with me.”
So now, he’s taken on a new role within the Arkansas running backs room. The Hogs’ top three tailbacks are sophomore Rawleigh Williams III, true freshmen Devwah Whaley and T.J. Hammonds. Hayden Johnson, another true freshman — and, like Walker, a Missouri native — has started six games at fullback.
“We’ve got young, talented guys in here that need guidance,” Walker said. “I think I can be that guy for them.”
Walker works out and rehabs when the team hits the practice field. After going through that daily routine, he tries to catch as much practice as he can, although it’s tough on a scooter. He’s also in every meeting and film session.
“He’s a team leader for us,” said Hogs quarterback Austin Allen. “When Kody says something, everybody listens. He’s turned into another coach.”
And if there are any glum feelings after leaving the football facility, unable to play the game he loves with his teammates, they evaporate the instant he gets home to Kaison.
“He has no worry in the world,” Kody said of his son. “Just seeing him smile keeps me going.”
It is a little hard, though, keeping up with the tyke on a scooter.
“I think he takes advantage of me,” Walker said with a laugh.
For her part, Coons — who has dated Walker since they were 14 back in Jefferson City — is ready for an entirely healthy co-parent.
Last October after Kaison was born, Coons changed diapers because of Kody’s broken hand. And now she’s responsible for corralling Kaison while dad still needs the scooter.
“I’m used to it by now,” Coons joked.
All kidding aside, Coons has watched Walker achieve many things. She was there for every touchdown. She was there when he signed with Arkansas, and when he graduated last December with a degree in sports management.
But she’s never been more impressed with anything than the way he is with Kaison.
“Seeing him take on fatherhood has been amazing,” she said.
As for the future, Walker remains a little unclear. He’d still like to take a crack at the NFL this spring.
Maybe he’ll try coaching. He’s also got some interest in the administrative side of sports.
“I feel like I have a lot of options,” he said.
He surely does, and that forage into the great unknown is a little less scary because of the two traits that defined his six seasons as a Razorback.
Kody Walker is adaptable, and Kody Walker is joyful.