Kevin Walker vividly recalls the moment his son, Tawee, delivered the surprising news that he was going to be a father three years ago, right there on their couch in Las Vegas. The mix of disbelief and excitement washed over Kevin almost instantly. He was going to be a grandfather, but the reality of the situation hit him like a ton of bricks.
Tawee, his youngest son, was just a year out of high school and hardly seemed ready to embrace fatherhood, let alone juggle the demands of playing Division I football.
“It wasn’t as if we had planned it,” Kevin shared with the OU Daily. “That was the toughest part for me to accept because that’s not how he was raised. He was raised to be responsible.”
— Jason Batacao (@J_batacao) August 30, 2023
Growing up, Kevin had always stressed the importance of responsibility to Tawee because he didn’t want his son to face the same regrets he himself had experienced. Kevin had given up his baseball career when he became a father in his early twenties.
Fear and anxiety gripped Kevin when he realized that Tawee and his girlfriend, Mariah, had made the same careless decision he had made in his youth. He feared that Tawee might have to make the same sacrifices he did.
“I tried to tell my son, ‘Hey, this put a hold on my dreams,'” Kevin said of their conversation. “Because I became a father, I came back, and I wanted to be there when she had the baby. So, I was excited. I wasn’t prepared, but I was excited. It was the same energy coming from him.”
At the time, Tawee was attending a post-graduate prep football academy in Massachusetts and, much like his father, he was uncertain about his ability to balance the responsibilities of being a committed father and a football player. However, instead of giving up on his dreams, Tawee chose to use fatherhood as motivation to excel both on and off the field.
“He even contemplated not playing and just focusing on raising his son,” Kevin revealed. “That’s kind of what I did. … You don’t want to live with regrets. You can do both. It’s going to be tough. That’s going to be your drive. It’s like you can’t fail because now you fail if you fail him.”
For the past two years, Tawee, a 5-foot-9, 215-pounder, worked relentlessly, starting with a single semester at Palomar College before making the leap to OU in the spring of 2022. In his first season with the Sooners, he saw limited action, buried deep in the depth chart, with just 18 touches for 62 yards.
But everything changed when Tawee was named co-starter on Oklahoma’s depth chart. While this might have surprised many, it was no shock to Tawee himself, who had been silently grinding in the shadows to reach this point.
“I’ve belonged here since I decided to go junior college,” Tawee confidently stated. “I just had to bet on myself. Personally, you have to always think that you belong. Whenever you believe you belong, you have to then show that you’re capable.”
For three years now, Tawee has been playing not just for himself but also for his two-year-old son and girlfriend, who now resides with him in Norman. He’s learned from his father the weight of having a family and the responsibility of securing their futures. Surprisingly, what seemed like a careless decision years ago has become a source of motivation for Tawee.
“I think it turned out to be the best thing, which is kind of hard to say when your kid is a young parent,” Kevin admitted. “But for him, that’s motivation. I just wish I would have felt that way. That’s his drive, and that’s his inspiration. He’s not just chasing the dream for himself; he’s chasing the dream to provide for him as well because he wants his son to have the best opportunities in life. He wants to be in a position to provide.”
After taking a year off from football to help raise his son, Tawee made the commitment to Palomar in the fall of 2021. His decision to go the JUCO route faced some resistance from his father, especially since he had received a full scholarship offer from then-Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders.
But Tawee believed that this path gave him the best chance to succeed and eventually transfer to a Power 5 program. His father, who had always emphasized hard work and no regrets, recognized his son’s determination and trusted his choice.
Dan Early, Palomar’s offensive coordinator, observed Tawee’s journey on and off the field. Early was immediately struck by Tawee’s character, noting his energy, great smile, and immense respectfulness. Tawee’s dedication to his responsibilities as a student-athlete and a father left a lasting impression on Early.
— Tawee Walker (@RMBwee) August 13, 2023
Tawee’s schedule was demanding. He attended early morning classes, lifted weights after practice, and spent precious time with his son whenever he could. He occasionally brought his son to football practices but relied mostly on his girlfriend to care for him during the week.
“He managed it like a man, a responsible man,” Early commended. “He’s responsible at his age and mature enough. He can say, ‘Hey, I’m a young father. I have a two-year-old, and man, school is a challenge,’ but academically, he gets it done. He’s a great student. He doesn’t let that interfere with his other responsibilities, like being a dad and a football player, with academics coming first.”
At Palomar, Walker exhibited discipline and dedication, qualities that ultimately led to a successful season. He played in all 11 games, rushing 187 times for 875 yards and eight touchdowns, while also catching 19 passes for 189 yards. His outstanding performance caught the attention of Oklahoma running backs coach DeMarco Murray, a hometown hero and former Sooners running back.
Murray offered Tawee the opportunity to join the Sooners as a walk-on. After consulting with close friend and former Oklahoma running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who had played with Tawee on his youth football team coached by Kevin, Tawee knew that OU was the right fit for him. The connection with Stevenson’s family, whom Walker considers as his own, solidified his decision.
“He trusts this process and is willing to bet on himself,” Early remarked. “There’s nothing in life that’s bigger than him. I think he handles it on a stage and performs as a person, as a parent, as a player, you know, as a student. That’s just who he is.”
Upon his arrival at Oklahoma, Tawee faced the challenge of finding a spot in the lineup. Murray, who Tawee had idolized growing up, applied relentless pressure and pushed the walk-on running back both on and off the field. Tawee found Murray’s coaching style surprisingly harsh during his first spring and fall training camp.
“I didn’t take it well,” Tawee confessed. “I thought he didn’t like me. But he’s just one hell of a coach. … I finally listened to him and just took everything in.”
Tawee realized that Murray’s expectations were clear and unwavering, regardless of their off-field relationship. However, this realization motivated him to excel, not only for himself but also to set an example for his son.