Walker: What needs to happen next?
Johnny Walker, Contributor
In his weekly Q&A with Hookem.com, former Longhorn wide receiver Johnny Walker talks about his bowl experiences at Texas and what the 2011 Longhorns can do to get back to a bowl game next year.
As a player, what’s it like to not play in a bowl game at the end of the season?
Johnny Walker: Not going to a bowl is unfortunate, but it’s something you have to use as motivation. You have to do whatever it takes to not allow that to happen again and so you don’t have the feelings you have right now ever again. You’ve got to let everybody in that locker room know that the consensus feeling is one that you don’t like. You’ve got to sit around and soak it in, but when you get back and start offseason you need to do your best to make sure everybody is buying in to make sure something like this season doesn’t happen again.
How much did you look forward to playing in bowl games?
JW: I always loved the bowl games because they’re a positive experience for just about everyone involved. You get a lot closer with your teammates and get to spend a lot of time with them. You also get to spend some time with your family if they’re able to come see you and that helps kind of revive you after a long season. Also, you get a lot of down time to focus on just football because so much of what you’re doing from a football standpoint is taking place while school is out, so there aren’t any classes and it’s just football. Bowls were always a positive experience for me.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the gifts players get at the bowl game. What do you remember getting in your bowl trips?
JW: I always liked the jewelry that you’d get for going to a bowl. The watches and rings and things like that were nice. I looked at it, too, as getting the chance to do some Christmas shopping because you get to put a little money in your pocket because of the money they give you to travel to the game. The gifts and things were nice, but it was always good to put a little money in your pocket. I can’t say anything negative about the stuff we got. Jewelry, sweats, shoes and things like that, they were all nice. Obviously the better bowl you go to the better the gifts you’ll get though.
What was your best bowl memory as a player at Texas?
JW: My first bowl game. I can’t tell you how big my eyes were. Your first bowl game is a special experience because you’ve never been there before and it’s really unlike anything you’ve experienced. For me, I just like the opportunity to get closer with your teammates and really get to spend a lot of time getting to know my teammates. When we played in the Bluebonnet Bowl, we had a lot of guys on our team from Houston so we got the chance to really get to know some of their families. It’s things like that you only experience by going to a bowl game.
Talk about the 1991 Cotton Bowl against Miami. What was the mindset of the team going into that game?
JW: It’s funny because we were actually disappointed that we were so close to playing for a national championship and probably should have been. We lost early in the year to a Colorado team that we felt we should have beaten. We didn’t have a good game plan because we were counting on them getting worn down by the heat and humidity and we rotated a lot of second and third string guys to keep people fresh. We put guys in positions where that maybe they shouldn’t have been and ended up losing a game that we really felt we should have won. We felt looking back on it at the end of the season that we should have been in a position to play for a national championship.
Was there a point in the Miami game where there was a sense among the players that the game might be slipping away?
JW: To be honest with you, I think that moment for us came before the game ever started. We had an event for the players on both teams leading up to the game. The event was a cowboy theme and they were handing out red bandannas to the players as we walked in the door. They were supposed to be worn around your neck, but the Miami players were wearing them around their heads and doing everything they could to try and intimidate us even at that point. Just the way they carried themselves that night and during the media events, they were getting themselves stirred up and basically telling us and the rest of the country, “this who we are, and this how we’re going to act, like it or not.” I think a lot of our guys were pretty intimidated. They did a great job of marketing “The U” and selling themselves as the biggest, baddest team with the nastiest attitude on the block. Plus, it didn’t help when Chris Samuels got knocked out first thing on the opening kickoff.
What sticks out the most about that game for you ?
JW: We had it in our minds what Miami was even before the game started. They weren’t worried about whether or not they would win, but by how much? They were going to win in the most intimidating, arrogant, non-disciplined manner that they could and that’s exactly what they tried to do to us. They had a ton of personal fouls and penalties during the game, but that’s the way Miami always played. They came in with a goal of doing whatever it would take to humiliate the University of Texas and unfortunately for us, that’s what they did.
Despite what happened in Dallas that day, what do you think is the legacy that 1990 team left behind for future Texas teams?
JW: I look at that team the same way I look at this (2011) team. We started off good the year before (1989) but we ended with a losing season. A lot of people were down on the program, but in the offseason we rededicated ourselves to the program and to our teammates to do the best we could every day to see that we didn’t have to have a season like that again. That’s when the “Whatever it Takes” team motto was instituted. There were a lot of guys who took it upon themselves to participate in our 3 a.m. workouts and the seniors on that team took a lot upon themselves to make sure that guys were going to be accountable. It truly was the “Shock the Nation” tour because nobody expected us to be as good as we were because we basically returned the same personnel that we had the year before. The reason why we were as good as were though was because so many people rededicated themselves to the program after a bad year the year before. It can get turned around but there has to be a rededication to the program from the players to be willing to do what it takes to get there.
That said, do you think the 2011 Texas Longhorns could be playing a major bowl next season?
JW: Absolutely. I know it can be done. That’s why I think regardless of which coaches come in, the players need to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to rededicate themselves to the program and make sure each guy on the team is held accountable for what they do leading up to the season. There needs to be some guys to step up and become leaders and make sure that guys are going to those voluntary workouts and doing what they can to be the best on their own time. That’s what it takes to be a national championship contender. You look at what Colt McCoy and Vince Young were able to do as leaders when it came to things like that and it really makes you take notice that guys like that are just as valuable for what they do off the field as what they do on game day.
With all of this talk about leadership, who was the best leader you ever played with?
JW: I would have to go back to high school and say Wilbur Odom (the former quarterback at San Antonio Holmes who played at Michigan and Angelo State). He just had the guts and resilience that he could look everybody in the eye, tell us we were going to win and we believed him. He was an unbelievable leader. Playing with guys like me, Keith (Cash), and Kerry (Cash) it couldn’t have been easy having these three big-headed guys in the huddle wanting the ball, but he did a great job of leading us and with him we thought we could execute from anywhere on the field at any time.
Did his leadership rub off on you when you moved on to your career at Texas?
JW: The thing about Keith, Kerry and myself is that we were guys who led by example. I was never a big rah-rah guy, I just tried to do the right thing and show guys the way by doing the right thing. I wasn’t necessarily that guy who had to be the first guy in the door and the last guy to leave, but everybody around me knew that every day when I came to work I gave absolutely everything I had. I would work and practice with great intensity and at a high level hoping that the younger guys would follow my lead.
Is leadership part of the reason why some people talked about the sense of entitlement this Texas team had and is that sense of entitlement something that will happen at a place like Texas?
JW: I always think there’s going to be a sense of entitlement because that comes with the territory at Texas. I think the guys who go to Texas know that they’re playing for a historically powerful program and you should be competing for championships on a yearly basis. I’ve said that the sense of entitlement breeds confidence among your team and that’s a good thing. The catch is having players in the program who understand that you have to work your butt off every day in order to maintain that level of success to keep the program at that same level. You know at Texas you’re going to be going up against teams on a weekly basis that want to build the same brand for their program that you have. That sense of entitlement is where you gain your edge and I think people get confused thinking it’s a bad thing when it gets brought up. The key is maintaining that “edge” through hard work. You saw firsthand this season what happens when the hard work and the dedication isn’t there on a weekly basis and you wear the target on your back like Texas does.
Johnny Walker was a two-time all-SWC receiver for the Longhorns under Coach David McWilliams. Walker now hosts a Thursday night radio show in his hometown of San Antonio called Longhorns Unplugged.