Garland (Texas) South Garland High football coach Mark Cox has been on the job for nearly 30 years. He has seen and coached a lot of great players. He has also seen great talents be wasted.
Heading into the senior season of three-star defensive tackle Charles Walker, Cox had no idea where he would classify his talented player.
Glimpses of brilliance, but not enough consistency. The physique of football player, but not the intensity or passion of one.
All the talent in the world but a body that was betraying him. But Cox never gave up on Walker. His persistence paid off this season, as Walker put it all together and committed to Oklahoma two weeks ago.
Walker missed the last five games of the 2011 season because of a concussion. Cox knows you don’t play around with a concussion, but he wasn’t sure about Walker’s dedication to want to get back out there.
It led to this exchange.
“I sat him down after the season and asked him, flat out, why are you playing football?” Cox said. “He sort of had his head down and meekly said he wanted to get a scholarship.
“I told him somebody his size that can run a 40 in 4.7 seconds is going to get a scholarship. Somebody will take a chance, but what about after that?”
What Cox was trying to ingrain into Walker’s head was getting a scholarship is nice, but if you don’t work hard, he was going to be right back in Garland and having to start back over.
For Walker, that talk didn’t just change his mind set about football. It changed his outlook on life.
“I guess you could say that’s when the light bulb came on for me,” Walker said. “I took a long hard look at myself. I had a coach who was supporting me the whole way, and it was time to go to work.”
Cox is convinced had Walker attended any summer camps that the idea of him being under the radar would have been preposterous. With his size and skill, schools were going to find out about him.
But they didn’t. Entering the latter half of the season, schools such as North Texas, Houston and New Mexico were Walker's top suitors.
OU was always lingering in the background, though. Defensive tackles coach Jackie Shipp began talking to Cox following Walker’s sophomore season. OU never went away, but also needed a reason to look in Walker’s direction again.
“I couldn’t worry about what schools were looking at me or anything like that,” Walker said. “I just had to keep working hard and focusing on what I could control.”
Cox said Walker started to believe what Cox was telling him. Despite playing with a labrum injury, there was no stopping Walker this past season.
But it wasn’t just on the field, Cox said. It was the little things.
“He matured so much,” Cox said. “He grew as a man. He had his chest up when he walking. He was sitting up straight. He learned how to shake a hand, like really shake a coach’s hand. He is comfortable with who he is.”
And the Sooners became comfortable with Walker, offering him in the middle of December. Walker said he wanted to commit right then and there, but it was key for him to see the campus.
Cox also advised Walker to see the campus.
“You just never know,” Cox said. “Some kids do a lot better in a smaller environment. Take the visits and figure it out. He knew, though. He knew OU was right for him.”
Walker had labrum surgery in December, but it is highly unlikely that it will hinder him from doing anything in the spring. Walker made a huge connection with Shipp. And spending more time with Shipp and seeing the campus for the first time sealed the deal.
Walker is ranked No. 40 at defensive tackle. Cox would love to see Nos. 1-39.
“I’m serious. If he’s a two-star, I really want to see those five-star kids,” Cox said. “I don’t have a tape to hide of Charles this season. Anybody can watch any game. He made the leap, and we can’t wait to see how he represents South Garland at OU.”