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From doghouse to penthouse

By By Tony Krausz/assistant sports editor
June 21, 2003
The words must have rung through Kenyatta Walker's head for the entire 2002 season.
Poor play and penalties knocked Walker from the Bucs' starting lineup after the final preseason game in Houston on Aug. 30, 2002.
For the first time in the former Meridian High School football standout's memory, he wasn't in a game when he was healthy to play.
But just like the message the 6-foot-5, 302-pounder delivered to the Boys and Girls Club at the group's Celebration of Excellence dinner on Thursday, he persevered.
Walker, the Buccaneers' 2001 first-round draft choice (14th overall), worked his way back into the starting right tackle spot for the team's 25-0 victory over Baltimore on Sept. 15, 2002.
After a rocky start to his second year of professional football, Walker capped the season with a dream ending.
On Jan. 26, he stood on the field at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., as a champion.
It was a fitting outcome for the son of the Queen City.
But the man, who now sports the diamond encrusted gold ring of a Super Bowl champion, started his path to the promise land of football long before the beginning of the 2002 season.
Walker landed in the lap of then Meridian High head football coach Mac Barnes in 1994, as a sophomore.
He walked into the Wildcats' lockerroom with the height to be a force on the grid iron, but he didn't have the weight. Barnes said he probably weighed around the 180-pound mark.
Walker went to work on shaping himself into a football heavyweight with the same fierceness he brings to the field.
By the time Walker was a senior, Barnes said he had put on the weight necessary to turn the heads of college scouts.
As the pounds formed on the young man's body, letters from college programs from across the country began to flood his mailbox.
Walker finally decided to go down to Gainesville, Fla., to play for the Florida Gators. It was a decision the All-American tackle said was the best one he could have made for his collegiate career.
After redshirting in 1997, Walker became one of the top offensive lineman in the country from 1998-2000, before entering the draft after his junior year.
He earned the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the Southeastern Conference's top offensive lineman following his junior season and was a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy in 2000, given to the nation's top offensive lineman.
Hard work, perseverance and an ability to grow and change has pushed Walker to the pinnacle of his profession, but don't expect him to slow down now.

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