By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
ATLANTA – Herschel Walker flipped a coin and attending the University of Georgia was the side of the coin that won.
Having been relentlessly bullied in his childhood, Walker was seeking an outlet for which to take out his pent up aggression and he thought that joining the Marines would be the best way.
Even though he was the top high school football prospect in the nation, playing college football wasn’t something he really wanted to do.
Speaking last Thursday night at a special premiere of the ESPN documentary “Herschel” that debuts Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPNU, Walker discussed the desire he had to join the Marines out of high school.
“Because of the anger I had inside by being bullied and hurt so much, I thought that going into the Marines would give me the right to go out and shoot people. And now I can punish them.”
He decided that he would flip a coin between joining the Marines and enrolling at Georgia. Fortunately for Walker, Georgia won.
“My coping mechanism was football,” Walker said in the documentary. “That coping mechanism saved my life.”
Even midway through his extraordinary rookie campaign in Athens, Walker still was determined to join the Marines. He thought about walking away from football.
But one day at practice, he changed his mind.
“We were practicing football and I looked out at the guys practicing and I said ‘I have been so selfish thinking about joining the Marines and leaving teammates that love me,’” Walker said. “At that time, I said ‘No, I’m not going to leave these guys. I will stay and fight.’”
Walker’s numbers as a collegiate football players were nothing short of staggering. He set 11 NCAA records, 16 Southeastern Conference records and 41 University of Georgia records. He finished his three-year career with 5,259 rushing yards, including 1,616 rushing yards in his freshman season alone.
But as impressive as Walker’s statistics were, he knows they wouldn’t have been as accomplished if not achieved within the team dynamic of the University of Georgia.
“People forget about it, but when you know football and you look at 1980-82, when I played, it was not Herschel Walker,” Walker told me last Thursday. “People now think it was Herschel Walker, Herschel Walker, Herschel Walker, but it was the team. What shaped me in life today was that sometimes you need people.”
Following Thursday’s premier, sitting in a Q&A session at Atlanta’s World of Coke, Walker was quick to credit his Bulldog teammates, many of whom were on hand at the event.
“In three years of playing at Georgia, I don’t think that there was one time that I ever got hit in the backfield and, for a running back, that’s a plus,” Walker said. “I had a lot of good players around me.”
Legendary former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley grabbed the microphone, saying that Walker’s sentiment reflected on his character as a person.
“What Herschel just said is what makes him Herschel, because the first thought on his mind is all the players here that helped him to become great,” Dooley said. “This is what makes Herschel special.”
“What Herschel just said because this is what makes Herschel because the first thought out of his mind is all the players here that helped him to become him great and that is what makes Herschel special.”
It was his time at Georgia that helped Walker understand the importance of teamwork. He was no longer just a boy from Johnson County, Ga., but rather a part of something bigger. It has served him well.
“My time at Georgia helped shape me,” Walker said. “I’m not just a product of Wrightsville, Ga., but I’m a product of the state of Georgia, and the University of Georgia had a lot to do with that. You sometimes need people to help you accomplish things. I’ve done it in my company, I’ve done it in my work and that’s where I’m living today.”