Smith, Walker make NFL dream a reality

By By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
April 22, 2001
The professional sports dream has come true for yet another Meridian native.
Kenyatta Walker, a former standout at Meridian High and the University of Florida heard his name called Saturday at the National Football League draft headquarters in New York when commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that Walker was taken as the No. 14 overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The tension gone, Walker stood on stage, hand in hand with family members, basking in the glory of being a player in the NFL.
Walker, a projected top 10 pick, was passed over by several teams, and he wasn't even the first offensive tackle taken, but in the end, the buc' stopped at Walker.
Walker said his mother Carolyn Brantley, a schoolteacher Northwest Middle School for some 31 years, was the most nervous person in the green room, as Walker, a projected top ten pick, was the last invited college player remaining to be picked when Tony Dungy and the Buccaneers traded up from No. 21 to No. 14 with the Buffalo Bills to get Walker.
Fowler relayed a humorous point about Brantley, who has admitted to grabbing quick naps while in the stands in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field where Walker played his college ball.
Walker graciously gave thanks to everyone he said helped him get to his position.
Walker said even though he was nervous, he knew that there was a possible scenario where he would end up going later than earlier projected.
Walker a 6-5, 305 pound left tackle will more than likely be expected to fill the shoes of retired Bucs offensive tackle Paul Gruber.
The Buccaneers, who exited the playoffs in the first round last season, traded their No. 21 pick and a second round selection to the Bills for a chance to grab Walker, the first offensive lineman drafted by Tampa in 10 years.
Another issue that seemed intriguing, at least to the ESPN draft prognosticators, was the slide of Walker, who was hailed by many as a top 10 pick.
Mel Kiper Jr. tabbed Walker to go at No. 9 to the San Francisco 49ers. Kiper, who has on numerous occasions referred to Walker as a future Pro Bowl left tackle, seemed quite surprised when teams took other players in lieu of Walker, even going so far as to say that Leonard Davis, an offensive tackle out of Texas, wasn't as good a pick as Walker when the Arizona Cardinals took the 370-pound All-American at No. 2.
The All-American and All-SEC lineman helped Steve Spurrier's Gators to the 2000 SEC Championship and in the process, earned the Jacobs Award, given annually to the league's best lineman. General Manager Rich McKay said flatly he thought Walker would challenge starter Pete Pierson for a starting spot in his rookie campaign.
Most scouts and media picked Walker to go anywhere from 6-12, with the Sporting News projecting this week that he would go in the No. 6 pick to the New England Patriots.
But for Walker, getting a spot with a team that can only be regarded as a Super Bowl contender was an exciting prospect he couldn't hide.
Walker's high school coach Mac Barnes was unavailable for comment Saturday, but has said all along Walker is the best lineman he has ever coached and is a prototype NFL player.
Two other former Wildcats remained undrafted after day one, as Smith, a former defensive end for the Alabama Crimson Tide and Jason Franklin, the top receiver for the 2000 Division II National Champion Delta State Statesmen were still awaiting a phone call at their respective homes at the end of the first three rounds.
But Franklin said last week he figured to be a later round choice, but was eager to get on with a team and prove that he is a diamond in the rough.
The draft concludes today beginning at 11 a.m. on ESPN.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for the Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551 ext. 3234 or e-mail him at rdark@themeridianstar.com.

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