By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Senior Offensive Lineman Landon Walker remembers his first time running down the hill as a Tiger like it was yesterday, now five years later, Walker will be rubbing Howard’s Rock and running down the hill for the final time in his career as the Tigers’ take on Wake Forest on Senior Day playing for their second Atlantic Division Title in three years.
“We’ve got a great football team coming into Death Valley on Saturday,” Walker said. “And you couldn’t ask the circumstances to line up any better for the seniors, the Division Championship on the line this weekend, last home game. A lot of emotional things that will come into play, it’s going to hit some of us being our last home game and the crowd. It’s a tough day, but it’s going to be a memorable and exciting one as well.”
Walker, who has been with the Tigers for 5 seasons, has watched several of his teammates play their final games in Death Valley, never thinking that his Senior Day would be approaching.
“I have seen guys go before me, and it seemed like it would be forever before I would be where I am today,” Walker said. “Those guys, their time here flew by just like mine has. For the most part, the seniors before me, their last game in Death Valley was the hardest they’ve ever played. So I’m sure on Saturday you’ll see the seniors giving everything they’ve got for the guys around them, and the rest of the team is going to give everything they’ve got for the seniors.”
Walker believes that the best thing for this 2011 team, that has been just short of perfect in their 8-1 start, after their first loss to Georgia Tech was having a few days off to relax and recharge.
“Just being able to step away from what we’re doing here was nice,” Walker said. “Just fresh your mind, take yourself back to where you started and how you got to where you are right now, that’s a big part of an off weekend and that’s what this team was able to do. We refocused on the things we’ve done to become an 8-1-football team that was the biggest focus this past week. Work harder than we’ve ever worked, practice harder than we ever have.”
With a win over the Demon Deacons on Saturday, Dabo Swinney’s Tigers’ will be named the Atlantic Division Champions for the second time in three years, and Walker believes that this fact says a lot about Clemson’s football program and the direction they’re heading in.
“I think that says a lot about what we’ve done here, a lot about Coach Swinney, and the coaches he’s brought into this program and the recruiting they’ve done here,” Walker said. “It’s a sign of a change in Clemson, and I think that’s pretty obvious that with the athletes we have here now, the coaches we were able to bring here, it’s a very big deal for Clemson.”
Most of Walker’s favorite memories of being a Tiger come from the night games and playing Florida State in Death Valley, even as a red shirt freshman.
“Even as a red shirt freshman, I would just look around and be in a daze at how crazy Death Valley was,” Walker said. “Playing Virginia Tech here, a lot of different things. I mostly remember the night games, Coach Swinney’s first game here against Georgia Tech that was a very exciting game. I could go on and on, there were a lot of games that mean a lot to me.”
As for if he’s worried about himself and his teammates not being as sharp due to the week off, Walker isn’t worried one bit.
“Not at all actually,” Walker said. “After working out 12 weeks in a row, counting camp it’s a given that you know what to do, how to execute, know what you have to do to win football games. What we’ve learned from the Georgia Tech game is how hard it is to win a game at the college level, it is evident to everyone that you can’t take winning for granted, and you’ve got to understand what you did to get the win and how hard it is to get it every week.”
Coach Swinney has always spoken of the great group of leaders that he has on this 2011 team and how they continue to make all of the difference. Walker is a part of that leadership council and thinks of it as an honor.
“It’s an honor to be chosen by my position coach to have an effect on the guys,” Walker said. “When you’ve been here as long as I have, you’ve seen a lot of things, dealt with a lot of things, and have seen a lot of guys lead, therefore you know how to do it. I think it’s huge for me to be in the position that I am leading this team, I think the best thing about being a leader when you put the team before you, you really see guys grow up. When you put the team in front of you, to me that’s being a leader. Being a leader is putting the team in front of yourself, and I think you have to do that in order to understand what truly being a leader is.”