#proathletehacks featuring Derrick Walker
There are many Michigan men who are noteworthy professional athletes, and a select few who go on to the NFL. But Derrick Walker
is in a league of his own as a former Wolverine co-captain who later returned to the University of Michigan as a Senior Director of Development
for the Midwest Region after a nine-year career as an NFL tight end.
For this week’s edition of #proathletehacks, I thought you would enjoy this exclusive Q&A with Derrick:
AJR: What did you learn about yourself while playing nine years in the NFL?
DW: I learned that all the growth in college was needed to compete at the NFL level. The hard work, dedication, accountability, perseverance, and leadership skills was part of who you needed to be to play at Michigan and that was transferable to the next level. To get to the NFL is one thing…to play nine years with the average career being three years is a testament to a lot of factors. And not for one day did I take for granted the blessing it was to play at a high level for so long and all the prayers from family and friends that sustained me. GOD is GOOD!!!
AJR: What was the hardest thing about retiring from the NFL? The most gratifying?
DW: The hardest thing was realizing that the NFL is ultimately a business, and your number would be called one day even if you think you could still play. The thing I missed most are those guys in the locker room. I had the opportunity to play for three different franchises and cultivate so many relationships. I don’t think anyone outside of a locker room of a team sport in general can understand the bonds that are built for your teammates in that locker room. It’s a special place. The most gratifying was knowing the grind was over. Since the 5th grade I played football every fall. All the summers training, the weeks of practice in season, the mental focus it took as I reached each level and the commitment being away from family was all a major sacrifice (and I enjoyed every minute) but it was tough especially as the years went on. When I retired, I got a chance to finally be Derrick Walker the person and move on to another chapter in my life, and most importantly enjoy time with my family. I missed so many holidays and important dates with them while I was playing football.
AJR: What do you cherish most from your time as a football player at the University of Michigan? What do you cherish most about your time back at the University as a Director of Development in the Athletic Department?
DW: I cherish the guys and the relationships I formed in Michigan. It always comes back to that. Two of my best friends to this day are guys I played with at Michigan. I also cherish the maturation process that I went through. When I went to college, I was just a boy from the south side of Chicago with an opportunity, when I left Michigan I felt I was grounded into a respectful young man with even more opportunities. Being back in Michigan is surreal and full circle. The same street (State St.) that I used to walk up and down to go from practice to the dorm is where my office is now. And I see our student athletes making that same walk (well they are riding scooters now…lol). And to be able to do for our current students’ athletes what someone in the same office that I sit now once did for me is so humbling and gratifying. I love college athletics and the opportunities it facilitates for growth in many ways for our student athletes. Being able to serve them is a blessing. Everyday I come to work is a good day and my development colleagues are the best! Oh, and let me not forget my Midwest donor base is very passionate, awesome to work with and very kind to me:).
AJR: If you have one dream for college athletes at the University of Michigan and throughout the country, what would it be?
DW: To be honest it would really be to make sure you enjoy college and the experience. Just be in the moment. It goes so fast and the hours you put in at practice and class can seem overwhelming at times. Get to know others on campus besides your teammates. At some point you will be an alum and Michigan has the largest living alumni base in the world, and always willing to help! Take advantage of the support that’s offered to you, you deserve it. I dream that all college athletes regardless of college are successful in their own way. I know it seems cliché, but you are our future.
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