Contrary to popular belief, high school football stars do not always make it to the NFL.
More often than not, prep heroes end up as afterthoughts in college or are swallowed up by the competition in the pros.
That didn’t happen to Herschel Walker.
After a distinguished high school career that brought him national attention, Walker continued to shine at the University of Georgia where he led the program to a national championship.
— Todd Miller (@conyersdawg) August 2, 2015
He then spent 15 years in two different professional football leagues.
Walker’s athleticism was legendary. He not only excelled on the gridiron but also became an accomplished bobsledder and mixed martial artist.
This is the remarkable story of Herschel Walker.
Early Life and Record-setting Prep Career
Herschel Walker was born on March 3, 1962, in Wrightsville, Georgia.
Opposed to his later life, Walker did not take to sports initially.
He was more fascinated with tales of the characters in the books he read as well as constructing poetry.
That sedentary lifestyle eventually caught up to Walker and he became overweight.
To make matters worse, he developed a stuttering problem.
Walker’s mother wouldn’t let her son use his weight or speaking difficulty as excuses not to make something of himself.
So, around 12 years of age, Walker decided to make his own way.
He embarked on a self-imposed workout program during the next year where he completed 100,000 push-ups and sit-ups and sprinted various distances.
The conditioning would pay off.
When he entered Johnson County High School In Wrightsville, Walker was a burgeoning athlete with virtually untapped potential.
From 1976-1979, he would become a prep phenom as a three-sport star for the Trojans.
Walker played basketball and ran the 100 and 220-yard dashes as well as competed in the shot put on the track team.
However, it was on the gridiron where Walker did the most damage.
As a starting running back, he carried (pun intended) Johnson High to unprecedented heights.
After rushing for 2,970 yards his first three years combined, Walker had a senior season for the ages.
In 1979, he would lead the Trojans to their first state championship on the strength of his astounding 3,167 rushing yards.
Herschel Walker rushed for 3,167 yards… his Senior year of High School! That is absurd!
— Hutch Gonzales (@CoachHGonzales) August 11, 2019
He would end his prep football career with 6,137 total yards and 86 touchdowns.
Walker’s stats got the attention of every college head coach in the nation and suddenly Wrightsville was overrun with recruiters.
Additionally, Walker was gifted in the classroom and was selected as an Athlete-Scholar delegate by the American Academy of Achievement after his senior year.
What really impressed Walker’s coaches, fellow students, and Wrightsville residents was his humble demeanor despite his enormous success.
“He shunned the limelight, and you don’t see that very much anymore; the guy who gave credit to everybody who played with him,” Walker’s high school coach, Gary Phillips, said.
Walker Wins a National Title with Georgia
Walker was the most sought after running back in the nation coming out of high school.
He eventually chose to attend the University of Georgia and play under head coach Vince Dooley.
Despite rushing for over 3,000 yards as a high school senior, Walker was the Bulldogs’ third string back by the time the 1980 season opened.
However, in the first game of the year, Georgia was down 15-2 at halftime to the University of Tennessee.
Dooley went with his instincts and inserted Walker to start the second half.
“I’m putting Herschel in…Don’t be afraid to let him carry the ball,” Dooley said to his offensive coordinator.
It didn’t take long for the freshman to display his talents.
Late in the third quarter, Walker took a hand off and raced 16 yards for a touchdown.
Along the way, he ran over Tennessee’s All-American safety Bill Bates, who would later play for the Dallas Cowboys.
— Five Star Degenerates (@FiveStarDegens) May 29, 2017
Only five minutes later, Walker scored again on a nine-yard run and the Bulldogs held on to win 16-15.
At that point, it was obvious to Dooley and his staff that Walker was no ordinary freshman.
He started the rest of the season and rushed for 1,616 yards (an NCAA freshman rushing record) and 15 touchdowns.
Part of Walker’s rushing total came against a tough Florida Gators team on November 8.
Despite gaining 238 yards on 37 carries, Walker and the Bulldogs were down by one with less than a minute left.
On third and ten at their own seven-yard line, Georgia quarterback Buck Belue found an open Lindsay Scott for a jaw dropping 93-yard catch and run for the game winning score.
The game would later be called the “Miracle on Duval Street.”
Herschel Walker on the cover of Sports Illustrated November 17th 1980. pic.twitter.com/Tha0jgU7X3
— 𝙃𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙚𝙩 𝘼𝙙𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙩 (@HelmetAddict) November 16, 2019
Georgia ended the 1980 season with an 11-0 record and played Notre Dame for the national title in the Sugar Bowl.
Early in the game, Walker suffered a dislocated shoulder, yet soldiered on.
Dooley went to him early and often and Walker fought his way to 150 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns.
Not only was it a gutsy game by Walker because of his shoulder, but the Fighting Irish had not given up a 100-yard rushing game the entire season.
The Bulldogs would eventually win the game 17-10 and claim the national championship. For his efforts, Walker was named the game’s MVP.
Walker wins the Heisman
In 1981, the Bulldogs went 10-2 and lost in their return to the Sugar Bowl to the Pitt Panthers 24-20.
Walker ran the ball that year 385 times for 1,891 yards (a collegiate career high) and 20 total touchdowns.
He finished second to USC running back Marcus Allen in the Heisman Trophy balloting after the season.
The following year, Georgia was undefeated and ranked number one in the country heading into the Sugar Bowl against number two Penn State.
Walker would rush for 103 yards and a touchdown, but the Bulldogs came up short, 27-23.
For the season, he ran the ball 335 times for 1,752 yards (5.2 yards per carry average) and 17 total touchdowns.
After coming up short the previous two years, Walker was finally awarded the Heisman Trophy as the top college player in the country.
— SicEmDawgs.com (@SicEmDawgscom) December 4, 2014
During his time at Georgia, Walker wasn’t only a gridiron great. When he wasn’t toting the rock for the Bulldogs, Walker ran track for Georgia.
He was a two-time All-American selection and primarily ran sprints for the Bulldogs.
In 1981, Walker was a member of the SEC champion 4×100 relay team.
Walker Leaves Georgia and Lands in the USFL
With his junior season behind him, Walker decided he wanted to forgo his senior year and jump to professional football.
At that point, he had rushed for 5,259 total yards and 52 touchdowns as a collegian.
Furthermore, Walker was a consensus All-America from 1980-82 and set 11 NCAA records, 16 Southeastern Conference records, and 41 University of Georgia records in his three years at Georgia.
The only problem was, the NFL did not allow underclassmen to declare for the draft.
However, the United States Football League was in play at the time and that league did accept underclassmen.
Even better, Walker would be free to choose whom he played for.
Only too eager for the young back’s services, New Jersey Generals owner Donald Trump opened the vault to get Walker.
— Greg James (@USFLAmerica) February 23, 2022
In order to maneuver around the league’s $1.8 million salary cap, Trump had Walker sign a personal services contract.
The signing was challenged in court, but the contract was eventually ruled valid.
Walker would play for three years in the USFL. In 1983 and 1985, he led the league in rushing.
Walker also set a professional football single season rushing record in ‘85 with 2,411 yards in 18 games.
His stats led to Walker being named the USFL’s MVP that year.
Meanwhile, in the 1985 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Walker in the fifth round.
There was a general feeling at the time that the USFL would not be active much longer and the Cowboys remembered Walker’s statement after leaving Georgia.
“I don’t know if I would want to play in the NFL unless it was for the two New York teams or the Dallas Cowboys,” said Walker in 1983.
Sure enough, Trump led an attempt after the 1985 season to move the USFL from a spring to a fall league and force a merger with the NFL.
The move failed and the USFL shuttered soon after.
Walker’s three-year totals with the USFL were 5,562 yards and 54 touchdowns.
Walker Becomes a Cowboy
In 1985, Dallas ended the regular season with a 10-6 record and lost to the LA Rams in the Divisional playoffs.
The main idea in signing Walker was to help the team get further into the postseason and make a push to the Super Bowl.
Today in 1986, the Dallas Cowboys signed Herschel Walker from the defunct United States Football League. pic.twitter.com/AA8qetHakZ
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) August 13, 2019
After he joined the Cowboys before the 1986 season, the coaching staff moved him to fullback.
In the mind of head coach Tom Landry, this would enable the offense to have both Tony Dorsett and Walker in the same backfield.
The pairing was unique as it was only the second time in league history that two Heisman winners were in the same backfield.
However, from the start, tension between Dorsett and Walker was evident.
Not only was Walker making more money than Dorsett, but he was also taking away carries from his counterpart.
In the first game of the ‘86 season against the New York Giants, Walker ran for the game winning touchdown.
Later in the season, he had a Dallas record 292 yards of total offense against Philadelphia including an 84-yard touchdown reception and an 84-yard touchdown run.
Unfortunately, the Cowboys did not improve in the win column and finished the season 7-9.
During his rookie NFL year, Walker rushed for 737 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 76 passes for 837 yards and two more scores.
Walker Leads the Cowboys
The strain between Dorsett and Walker only got worse in 1987.
Before the season began, Walker complained about his role and demanded more carries.
He got his wish and became the team’s primary back, limiting Dorsett to only six starts (including two games where Dorsett did not play despite not having an injury).
While the Cowboys finished 7-8 in the strike-shortened season, Walker had 891 rushing yards, seven touchdowns, 60 receptions for 715 yards and a score.
He would be voted to his first Pro Bowl and named a Second-team All-Pro that year.
After the season concluded, Dorsett wanted out and was traded to the Denver Broncos.
June 3, 1988 the Cowboys traded HOF running back Tony Dorsett to the Denver Broncos in exchange for a conditional 5th round pick. Dorsett had relegated to a backup role behind Herschel Walker. At the time of the trade, Dorsett was 4th All Time Leading Rusher in NFL History. pic.twitter.com/Ku0201omaA
— Dallas Cowboys Old School (@CowboysOld) June 8, 2020
In 1988, Dallas only got worse and limped to a 3-13 record.
However, Walker was better than ever and rushed for a career high 1,514 yards with five rushing touchdowns and added 53 receptions for 505 yards and two more scores.
He was again voted to the Pro Bowl and named Second-team All-Pro.
Trade to the Vikings
As the 1989 season got underway, it was abundantly clear that Dallas was no longer the premiere franchise in the NFL.
New head coach Jimmy Johnson had taken over for the departed Landry, but the team began the year with five straight losses.
Seeing the writing on the wall, and hoping to turn around the fortunes of the team, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones traded Walker to Minnesota after Week 5.
Today in 1989, the Cowboys traded Herschel Walker to the Vikings for several future Super Bowls to be named later… pic.twitter.com/IZ2rZnoeUi
— 80s Sports N Stuff (@80sSportsNStuff) October 12, 2020
In return, Dallas received five Vikings players and six future draft picks.
Walker arrived in Minneapolis and got to work quickly.
After only one practice, he was named the team’s starting running back for their next game against Green Bay.
With “Herschel Mania” taking the home crowd by storm, Walker ran for 148 yards on only 18 carries.
“I’m looking downfield and he’s running and I’m running behind him, I’m like, ‘Yeah, keep going!'” recalled Steve Jordan, Minnesota’s Pro Bowl tight end. “It was pretty awesome. You’re thinking, OK … he’s going to kill it, this is what we’re going to see on a regular basis.”
It was the first 100+ yard rushing game for a Viking in two years and the best rushing game by a Minnesota back since 1983.
Walker would continue leading Minnesota in rushing and end his season with 669 yards and five touchdowns.
Combined with his Cowboys totals that year, Walker produced 915 rushing yards with seven rushing touchdowns and 423 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
The Vikings would end the season with a 10-6 record and faced the San Francisco 49ers in the Divisional round.
Minnesota’s vision of Walker being the missing piece to the Promised Land failed to materialize as the Niners crushed the Vikings 41-13.
Walker Fails to Deliver for Minnesota
The Walker Plan didn’t improve in 1990.
The Vikings fell to 6-10 while Walker had a combined 1,085 yards and nine touchdowns.
In 1991, Minnesota improved slightly to 8-8 as Walker contributed 1,029 total yards and 10 scores.
By the end of the ‘91 season, the Vikings fan base was not happy.
— WM (@WalterMaselli) May 20, 2021
It was clear to the NFL world that the Cowboys had gotten the better end of the Walker trade.
“We were in a great position (in 1989), just poised for a lot of success,” Steve Jordan said. “And it all kind of came crumbling down. That trade set us back in a negative position for a number of years.”
While the Vikings wallowed in mediocrity, Dallas was using the draft picks gained from the trade to rebuild their team.
The Cowboys would use four of the Walker picks on running back Emmitt Smith, defensive tackle Russell Maryland, and defensive backs Kevin Smith and Darren Woodson.
After Dallas’ awful 1-15 season in 1989, the team went 7-9 in 1990 and then 11-5 and a playoff berth in ‘91.
They would win Super Bowl XXVII the following year.
Once Minnesota’s 1991 season concluded, the team did not re-sign Walker.
Walker Makes a Trip to the Olympics and then Heads to Philly
When the ‘91 season ended, the public was shocked to learn that Walker had made the 1992 U.S. Olympic bobsled team.
Watching the 2 Man Bobsled in the Olympics right now and I somehow remembered that Herschel Walker was part of one of the 2 man teams for the USA at the Winter Olympics in 1992. Guy was a crazy talented athlete. pic.twitter.com/ew0Ue2ote6
— Kevin Salmon (@hansolo73) February 15, 2022
He had been interested in joining the team as a brakeman and made the four-man team.
Because the Vikings failed to make the 1991-92 playoffs, Walker re-joined the Olympic team and was given a seat with the two-man team.
“It takes a great athlete to be a pusher, combining speed and strength,” said U.S. bobsled coach Jim Hickey.
“He (Walker) brought a desire to win,” Hickey said. “It was something he conveyed in meetings. The guys were very attentive to what he had to say.”
Disappointingly, Walker and his partner, driver Brian Shimer, failed to medal in the Games.
″There’s no doubt I was expecting more,″ Walker said after his Olympic debut. ″We came in with the attitude that we had a chance to win, and we did have a chance to win.″
After returning from the Olympics, Walker signed a free agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. Coincidentally, the team also thought Walker was the missing piece of a championship team.
“I think the Eagles can get to the Super Bowl, and I want to be a part of it,” Walker said. “There were other teams interested, but I thought this is the team to do the job.”
In his first season as an Eagle, Walker rushed for 1,070 yards along with 278 yards in receptions and 10 total touchdowns.
It was only the second time in his NFL career that Walker rushed for over 1,000 yards.
Philadelphia went 11-5 with Walker’s help in ‘92 and defeated New Orleans in the Wild Card round.
Next up was a showdown with Walker’s former team, the Cowboys. However, the match-up proved uneventful as the Cowboys ended Philly’s year 34-10.
Walker Returns to Dallas
During the 1993 and 1994 seasons, Walker continued his role as the Eagles’ dual threat runner and receiver.
In ‘93, he had 1,356 combined yards and four scores for 8-8 Philadelphia.
I’ve already changed my jersey. herschel walker Eagles jersey time. pic.twitter.com/V8x0nG3att
— Gary (@GTheS) September 27, 2020
The following season, he added 1,028 combined yards and seven touchdowns.
Not long after the 1994 season concluded, the Eagles signed free agent running back Ricky Watters, which made Walker expendable.
He signed with the New York Giants for 1995 and gained 360 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown.
Walker was released by the Giants after the ‘95 season and was picked up by the Cowboys.
With his better days clearly behind him, Walker played sparingly in 1996 and 1997.
He would gain only 103 rushing yards, 238 receiving yards, and three touchdowns combined over his final two seasons.
Walker retired after the ‘97 season with NFL career totals of 8,225 rushing yards, 4,859 receiving yards, and 82 touchdowns.
He was used occasionally as a kick returner in the NFL and added 5,084 yards and two scores total in that role.
Walker was a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time Second-team All-Pro selection in his career.
After leaving the NFL, Walker has been in and out of the news for various reasons.
He started his own chicken distribution company called Renaissance Man Food Services in 1999.
By 2004, Walker’s company was the largest minority-owned chicken supplier in the country.
In 2001, he was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, which Walker states was the primary cause of his failed marriage with his ex-wife Cindy DeAngelis Grossman.
Eight years later, he joined an MMA promotion company and eventually fought twice, winning both bouts by TKO.
Then, in early 2011, Walker announced that he wanted to return to the NFL even though he was almost 50 years old.
“I’ve told everyone that at 50 I might try football again to show people I can do that,” Walker said at the time. “I want to be the George Foreman of football, come back and do that one more time. … The two teams I would come back to play for are Minnesota or Atlanta. It would probably be Atlanta because that’s home for me.”
Although he did not return to the NFL, Walker eventually found his way into politics.
Urged on by his one-time New Jersey Generals boss, former President Trump, Walker announced in 2021 that he would be running for the U.S. Senate in Georgia.
McConnell Endorses Herschel Walker for Senate. The eventual Republican nominee will face @SenatorWarnock, a freshman Democrat who won his seat in a January special election. https://t.co/jPftj22qNq pic.twitter.com/bIjVLKJd7R
— Climate Dispatch (@ccdeditor) October 27, 2021
Due to his relationship with Trump, Walker has raised eyebrows by claiming a number of conspiracy theories including Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was rigged.
Walker currently resides in the Atlanta area as he prepares for his Senate campaign.