Johnny Walker described himself as a little kid from San Antonio. Because of his size, or lack thereof, people felt confident when they told him he wouldn’t accomplish his dream of becoming a professional athlete.
“When I was coming out of high school they told me I wasn’t big enough to play Division I football,” Walker said. “I think I was 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds soaking wet. They told me I wasn’t good enough to play baseball at the University of Texas, which at the time had the No. 1 baseball team in the country. Then they told me I wasn’t smart enough academically to play two sports at the University of Texas.”
But Walker refused to let the doubters define him. He went on to play baseball and football for the University of Texas. During that time Walker twice earned First Team All Southwest honors, received two endowed presidential scholarships and was one of the only dual sport athletes at UT.
“So I always tell people ‘Follow your dream and never let anyone tell you what you can’t do, because you can do it,’ ” he said.
The Atlanta Braves drafted Walker his junior year in the third round of the 1990 MLB draft. Walker returned to UT to finish his senior year with “the posse” and the Green Bay Packers selected him with the 203rd pick in the eighth round of the 1991 NFL draft. His baseball contract allowed him to play football and Walker became one of the few athletes to play in the MLB and NFL.
But when Walker is inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame on Saturday it will be because of what he accomplished as a little kid from San Antonio, before college.
Walker played football for San Antonio Holmes High School during the mid 1980s. He was Texas’ top-rated wide receiver and the first option on a receiving corps that included twins Keith and Kerry Cash, who also played for UT and who both played tight end in the NFL. Walker was named to the 1986 Texas Football Super Team and the 5A all-state first team. The San Antonio Holmes Huskies went 24-3 overall and won five playoff games in his last two seasons.
“It was an incredible experience,” Walker said. “It’s almost hard to put into words. There’s probably not too many high school teams that had four guys go into the NFL. So we had a pretty, pretty good football team.”
Despite having so much talent, Walker and the Huskies did meet their match in 1985 when they faced Jack Yates. Walker said that game is one he will never forget.
“We probably had the best high school football team and we were really looking forward to winning state,” he said. “But we came across what many consider the best high school football team of all time. That was probably the only team that could beat us. I knew we were in trouble when I came out and I saw that their band players were bigger than our offensive line.”
The Lions went on to win the 5A state title, something Walker had his heart set on winning. But he said the experience was surreal and he feels fortunate for it.
“I think the game we played against Yates was a sold out crowd and one of the largest ever in San Antonio,” he said. “We were getting police escorts to high school football games. It was unbelievable to have an experience like that.”
Walker spent a year on the Packers practice squad hoping to earn a roster spot. But the following year the Packers hired Mike Holmgren as their new coach and he cleaned house of the old regime’s players.
“From there I went to camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers and when I got released I went to play in the Canadian Football League with the Toronto Argonauts,” Walker said.
Toronto and the CFL proved to be a good experience for Walker. He said the city was absolutely incredible and once he got used to being able to run before the snap, everything else fell into place.
“It was a little bit of a different brand of football but it was a lot of fun,” he said. “It’s an ideal league to be in for a wide receiver.”
Now Walker is back living in San Antonio with his wife and has one son and four daughters. His oldest, John, is 21 and attends Texas State University on a ROTC scholarship. His oldest daughter, Savannah, is 18 and received an offer for a volleyball scholarship from the University of Dallas. He teaches resource English at Bush Middle School. He has been teaching for 19 years and said he’s pretty excited to finish his 20th year.
When the hall of fame committee told him he would be inducted, Walker said he was in shock.
“It really was an incredible moment,” he said. “I didn’t really know what to say. I was supposed to tell him, ‘yes I accept,’ so it took me a little bit to grasp everything that was going on. Then he told me I had to accept and I immediately accepted after that.”
Although Walker wasn’t expecting to get inducted, he had thought about it before.
“I got the opportunity of going to the High School Hall of Fame and I can remember thinking ‘man, I wonder if I’ll ever get the opportunity to be in such an incredible place.’ And lo and behold, it came true,” Walker said.
Walker has moved on from being a professional athlete and the excitement in his voice is almost palpable when he speaks of his job and family. But he said there are still things he misses about the game.
“The friendships you develop that are lifetime friendships,” Walker said. “Even though I don’t talk to the guys I played with on a daily basis, when we do meet up it’s like it was yesterday. I think that’s the thing I miss the most. The camaraderie, hanging out, having fun with the fellas, competing and going through incredible experiences in life together.”