MANHATTAN — The crazy thing about the tackle that so far defines Tre Walker’s football career? It took the officiating crew several minutes to realize it happened.
After all, a quick Internet search is all it takes to unearth a photo of Walker forcing Miami quarterback Jacory Harris’ left knee to the ground a yard short of the end zone on the final play of Kansas State’s 28-24 victory.
Walker saved the day and helped propel K-State to a 10-win season.
But watching the play live, officials decided Harris dove past Walker and scored. It wasn’t until the play went to review, and was quickly overturned, that it forever became a part of Walker’s legacy.
“That one single play brought a great deal of attention to Tre,” K-State coach Bill Snyder, “and rightfully so.”
Walker, who made two other tackles in that goalline stand, was named Big 12 defensive player of the week and was suddenly a celebrity on campus. A year later, few days go by without someone talking to him about that play.
He doesn’t mind the conversations and it’s a tackle he will always be proud of. But Walker wouldn’t mind moving on, either.
“I want something better than that. I would be crazy not to want that,” Walker said. “They talk a lot about it. It’s a good thing. I’m thankful that they do, don’t get me wrong. But I’m ready for something else. I’m ready for Tre Walker to be known for something else, another play.”
That won’t be easy, but Walker will get plenty of chances before his career is over. This is the junior linebacker’s second season as a full-time starter, and he defends the middle of the field better than anyone on the team not named Arthur Brown.
He is strong against the run and dependable against short passes. He sees less playing time against pass-happy opponents — which partly explains why he made one tackle against Missouri State while K-State used a nickel defense last week — but he rarely leaves the field against balanced and run-oriented offenses.
Maybe he’s in for another big day against Miami on Saturday at Snyder Family Stadium. Maybe he isn’t. But he certainly is aiming high.
“My goals right now are to be a junior all-American,” Walker said. “I’m coming back to get that. My goals right now are to have more interceptions. I dropped four in my hands last year, I can’t do that. That’s my goal, to make those big plays and make big stops.”
Walker, a former Olathe North standout, is the unquestioned vocal leader of the Wildcats’ defense. He is a born communicator, and goes out of his way to make sure his teammates are in sync and motivated.
“All I do is talk,” Walker said.
That much was obvious last week when he was named the team’s spirit captain, which meant he was supposed to take part in the pre-game coin flip. But he refused to participate.
“He leads a little ordeal in the locker room prior to the game,” Snyder said.
Walker made 52 tackles, broke up three passes and forced a fumble last season. That was a slight improvement from his freshman season, when he made 47 tackles and intercepted a pass. He is stronger now and is trying to become a better defender on mid-range passes.
“I think he was a good player last year, and he continues to work at it,” Snyder added. “He has a great attitude about it. He is a hard worker and a team-oriented guy. He brings a lot of spirit to our defense … I think he just gets better and better. He still has a ways to go and still makes mistakes, but he gets better all the time.”
He is also constantly coming up with new things to say in the locker room moments before K-State takes the field.
“He’s not a guy who sits down and writes out speeches, they all come from the top of his head and his heart,” Brown said. “Whatever he feels the need to say, he will say.”
Same goes for on-the-field chatter, where his communication is vital.
“Tre provides me with a lot of comfort,” Brown said. “Just the energy that he brings helps with my game play and the defense as well. His presence is impactful.”
Everyone who watched from the sideline as Walker tackled Harris feels the same way. Senior quarterback Collin Klein recalls being so nervous when the Hurricanes lined up for a first-and-goal late in the fourth quarter that he could hardly think.
“There had been so much given and so much emotion and energy spent through the course of the game,” Klein said. “To have it culminate in an essence of four plays, it was an emotional time.”
The series stuck with Miami coach Al Golden, too.
“We were 14 for 15 in goal-line situations for the whole year,” Golden said. “And, of course, it’s the one that costs you a game. I remember Kansas State executing better than we did and earning the right to win the game … That smarts when you can’t get it in on that situation.”
The defensive stand has since been immortalized in still photos and videos, but Walker is ready to make some new memories.
“I don’t just want one stop,” Walker said. “I want four or five interceptions and four or five sacks. Those are my goals. I’m pressing hard for those goals. I believe it is going to happen.”