NORMAN — Casey Walker never considered giving up football.
During the few weeks he took off for personal issues during the start of the season, he saw his “brothers” out there struggling. His departure came at a time when so many other alarms were ringing in the Oklahoma locker room, with the indefinite suspension of Stacy McGee, as well as the injuries and departures to the offensive line.
Walker watched as senior defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland and defensive end David King took every snap. But in the first game against UTEP, the defense didn't give up any points. Florida A&M managed just one touchdown in the Sooners' next game.
Now that a month has passed, Walker, a senior defensive lineman, has put everything that came before the Kansas State game behind him.
Walker said he never debated whether to keep on playing. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said Walker's absence was not due to a football-related injury. When the news first came out and reporters asked if Walker remained healthy through fall camp, Stoops replied, “For the most part.”
Walker talked to the media this week for the first time since he took his personal leave and confirmed it wasn't anything “physically wrong.”
He followed with, “That's kind of in the past.”
That's what his mother, Natalie Pipken, said when asked about the rumors that were swirling around her son.
“Oh, that's in the past,” Pipken said. “We've already moved forward.”
Forward to Kansas State, Walker's first game back, where he said he played the entire game. Forward to Texas Tech, where the 6-foot-3, 309-pounder was named one of the defensive players of the game by the team.
Forward to Dallas, where the Texas Longhorns and running back Joe Bergeron are hoping to run down the OU defense.
In the 2011 Red River Rivalry, Walker recorded his first career sack, compiled a career-high two tackles for loss and forced a fumble that was recovered by the Sooners.
“I had a good game last year,” Walker said, “but this is a new year, and I plan on having a better game than last year. Every year is about improving.”
Improvement is what Garland High School football coach Jeff Jordan saw from his former star. He watched Walker develop into a major college recruit; but Walker was a young man the coach had to sit down for a discussion about maturity. Walker, Jordan said, was the “typical 17 or 18 year old that does silly things.”
Jordan said now when Walker comes home, he usually drops by the football office. That was the case during Oklahoma's second bye week.
Jordan said Walker mentioned that he had taken some time off from football. But the coach didn't pry and the former Garland High player didn't offer.
Jordan said Walker has grown into a mature young man, one who was recently married.
Walker's about to take his last trip down the aisle of the Cotton Bowl's tunnel on Saturday, leaving behind the questions and the concerns. Moving forward is the only way he wants to go.
“I never lost a step,” Walker said. “My shape is pretty good. I'm just gonna go out and ball.”