How Tawee Walker is blowing away expectations to emerge as OU’s feature back

How Tawee Walker is blowing away expectations to emerge as OU’s feature back

Walker had 21 carries for 117 yards, the first 100-yard rushing game of his OU career.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Sep 10, 2023, 12:12am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Sep 10, 2023, 12:12am CDT

NORMAN — Tawee Walker wore a Black Cat shirt into post-game interviews. 

Seemed appropriate.

The tailback has become a firecracker for the Sooners.

So I asked him: is the shirt some sort of statement?

“It’s just a brand in Las Vegas,” he said of his hometown. “It’s a little local brand.”

Not the firecrackers?

“I really don’t know,” he said. “It’s just a cool shirt.”

Even when Walker didn’t mean to, he made the right moves Saturday. 

On a night OU defeated SMU 28-11, the Sooners had lots to be proud of. They faced late-game adversity, and unlike many similar instances last season, they overcame. There were immediate scoring drives. There were timely defensive plays. 

While much of that was unfortunately overshadowed by the presence of Art Briles on the field in OU gear — was it only a matter of time before the hiring of Jeff Lebby, who was one of his father-in-law’s assistants during the Baylor rape scandal, led to an embarrassment like this? — the Sooners have plenty to like about what happened on the field.

Perhaps nothing was better than the continuing emergence of Walker. Less than two weeks ago, most folks figured he would be a down-the-depth-chart option at running back. Surely, he’d be behind Jovantae Barnes and Marcus Major and Gavin Sawchuk. 

Then Walker started the opener a week ago.

This week, he starred.

Walker had 21 carries for 117 yards, the first 100-yard rushing game of his OU career. He added three catches for 25 yards.

All of Walker’s yards were big, but his first-half performance was particularly important. At halftime, he had nine carries for 69 yards. The rest of the Sooners’ ballcarriers: 15 carries for 35 yards.

“I feel like it was important,” Walker said of his early production. “(OU running backs coach) DeMarco (Murray) has been stressing that running back is the heart of the offense, so we need to make something happen for the team to make something happen. 

OU coach Brent Venables said of the SMU defense: “They were loading the box and making it really, really hard. (Walker’s performance) was everything, the extended drives.”

Major started the game and had a couple of decent carries, two for 10 yards, but after the Sooners had to punt away their opening possession, Walker entered on their next one. 

His first carry: nine yards.

The possession ended with a touchdown.

Major played the next two possessions, but both ended in punts. Walker returned, and the Sooners promptly put together a 13-play, 94-yard touchdown drive. He had runs of nine, three, six and 30 yards, then after Barnes came in to spell him a bit, Walker returned for runs of six, four and one yards. 

“He runs tough, and he’s hard to tackle,” Venables said. “They can have everything just right, but he’s got great power and agility, and he can bounce it, too, as you saw.”

His 30-yard scamper, the Sooners’ longest run of the season, was evidence of that. Walker ran up the middle, was bottled up but bounced outside to his left. Then in the open field, he hit the afterburners and zipped through a couple of would-be tacklers to pick up a few more yards.

That versatility — vision, patience, speed, toughness — is arguably his biggest strength.

“DeMarco has added a lot of stuff to my game,” Walker said. “I wasn’t a patient back. That’s probably my biggest thing he’s helped me with. I’m usually just eager to go, and he’s been real hard on me about being patient and following and setting up my blocks.”

Walker admits he arrived at OU before last season with lots to learn. He was a junior college transfer who walked on. He had no guarantee of a scholarship. Same for playing time or opportunities.

Coming to OU was betting on himself.

He believes his journey is part of his style on the field. He had to grind and fight, scratch and claw, so when a defender hits him, he does everything in his power to keep going. He churns his feet. He leans. He pushes. He carries defenders if he needs to.

He’s only 5-foot-9, but he’s a stout 216 pounds, a slightly bigger version of Quentin Griffin, who played for the early Bob Stoops Sooners at 5-foot-7, 195 pounds.

Like Griffin, Walker plays with grit, motivated by people who have been part of his journey.

There’s a lot of kids that don’t get the opportunity, especially from the area I’m from, North Las Vegas,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of kids that make it out, and I just feel like being that person that can show them that it’s possible is just a big deal. 

“I want to be a role model.”

So far, so good.

By the way, Walker is still a walk-on. No scholarship yet. 

That needs to change.

“That’s not really something that I’m thinking about right now,” he said. “I’m just thinking about winning games with my team and just keep practicing and just keeping my head up. Everything’s going to fall into place one day.”

This firecracker, after all, is blowing away every expectation.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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