Bruce Walker Jr.
looked up to his father, Bruce Sr.
Even though the younger Walker hadn't been born yet when his father played in the NFL, Bruce Walker Sr. was a role model, on and off the football field.
The elder Walker, who played professional for four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers in the mid- to late-1990s, didn't miss many of his son's football practices at a young age. Dad coached his son in Pop Warner.
Dad was on hand for a seventh-grade practice on Nov. 7, 2014 when life changed instantly.
"I just seen the ambulance come and seen a crowd around. I was surprised and I was looking around for my father," Walker said. "I didn't see him and then my god dad came over and talked to me. He was telling me it was my dad and he was going to the hospital, so they rushed me over to the hospital. When we got there, they had told me he passed."
A seizure had abruptly ended the life of Bruce Walker Sr. at 42.
His 13-year-old son was devastated. The person he looked up to most was gone. He didn't even get to say goodbye.
"The relationship we had built, it was just very hard time knowing I won't be having my father there ever again," Walker said.
From that day forward, Walker vowed to be the best football he can be. He wants to live up to the expectations set forth by his late father.
"It's a huge task that I want to accomplish knowing that he was the No. 1 recruit coming out of high school at Compton Dominguez and knowing that he went to UCLA and dominated there," Walker said. "It's a huge lift on my shoulders, but I'm going to take on the task and live up to it."
Walker, who is 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, is doing a great job thus far. After a solid junior season at St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy (Downey, Calif.)
, Walker skyrocketed onto the national radar of nearly every major college coach on the West Coast. It was his first year in the program after transferring from nearby St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) after his sophomore season.
"That was big for us coming over from a national program, a championship environment and things like that," St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy offensive coordinator Devah Thomas said. "Him being part of a national championship team, he brought that winning attitude to the program and his competitiveness."
Walker — who also plays basketball and runs on the track and field team — started on both sides of the ball for the Warriors. The 17-year-old was the team's leading wide receiver with 21 catches for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Defensively, Walker was a beast. He had 105 tackles (63 solo), 14 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
It was a pretty easy choice for the Warriors' coaching staff to start Walker on both sides of the ball.
"I wanted to show off his athleticism to college coaches," Thomas said. "He's a big guy that can run, catch and hit."
Defense is Walker's true calling. His father played defensive end, while his son mainly plays outside linebacker. However, Walker dabbled at inside linebacker, cornerback and safety this season.
"I feel like what makes me a pretty good football player is how versatile I am," said Walker, who started the first 10 games of the season before a sprained foot sidelined him the final two weeks. "This year I went in at 195 pounds, so pretty much a smaller guy, so I was able to flex out and play nickel and guard the slots man-to-man and I was able to go inside and play middle 'backer and stop the run."
Thomas saw a lot of growth from his star pupil this season.
"I saw leadership, the way he worked hard and the way he elevated his game," Thomas said. "He's gotten better as a student of the game."
Thomas has worked with Walker quite a bit once he got to St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy. The two have a strong relationship that dates back to when Walker was in middle school.
"I just try to be there as much as I can," Thomas said. "I'm not his dad, but I try to be there to be that male mentor in his life."
Thomas is trying to help Walker by attracting college coaches to his potential on the field. With Thomas' guidance, Walker was invited to the 2019 National Combine for 600 of the nation's top underclassmen. It will be held Jan. 3-5 in San Antonio. College scouts will be swarming the combine for the next great football player. Walker hopes to create plenty of buzz.
According to Thomas, Walker is being recruited by all the Pac-12 and Mountain West schools.
"We putting it on paper and letting the world know: Don't pass up on this guy because he is a great player," Thomas said.
Walker has already visited San Diego State and has trips planned to Washington, Texas and Nevada. UCLA, which is in Walker's backyard, is also in the mix.
"It's a huge dream school for me knowing that my father was there and I had two cousins that went there, an uncle that went there," Walker said.
Walker is in search of a great football college, but also one with high academic standards and a good business program. When football is over, Walker would like to open his own training facility.
Walker is a strong student with a 3.0 cumulative grade point average with a 3.4 GPA this semester.
"My dad would be very proud of me, especially in my improvement that I've done in the classroom and on the field," Walker said. "I just wish he was here."
Walker is active at school and is working on starting a club for African American and other ethnic groups.
"Just teach people about their histories and cultures and what their ancestors had to really go through in their time period," Walker said.
Away from school, Walker dedicates time to volunteering for the program Field of Dreams. It helps kids ages 5-12 who were kicked out of Los Angeles area schools and are trying for a second chance through a continuation program. Twice a week for six hours at a time, Walker helps kids with homework, reads them books and plays with them.
"It's wonderful knowing I can play a role in influencing and guiding them down the right path," Walker said.
On and off the field, Walker is a role model, just like his father was.
"Real humble, real quiet, well mannered," said Thomas about Walker. "Just a workhorse, man. He's a great kid."
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