NORMAN — Casey Walker's mother has a message for Oklahoma football fans: Her son is “great” and will return to the Sooners this season.
Coach Bob Stoops announced last week that Walker, a senior defensive tackle, was dealing with a “personal issue” that prevented him from traveling to El Paso, Texas, for the Sooners' season opener at UTEP on Saturday.
“He is great,” Natalie Pipken emphatically told The Oklahoman in a brief telephone interview Tuesday evening.
“He is coming back. He'll be back on the team.”
Stoops has continued to say he is unsure of any time frame for Walker's return.
Pipken declined to offer any specifics, only unequivocally saying, “Soon,” when asked if she knew when Walker might rejoin the OU football team.
A fifth-year senior who redshirted in 2008 as a freshman, Walker has appeared in 22 games over the past three seasons, earning 12 starts. Last season, he played in 12 of the Sooners' 13 games — starting eight of them — and missed a midseason home loss to Texas Tech with a hand injury.
However, on the Wednesday before OU's Nov. 26 home contest against Iowa State last season, Walker was transported by ambulance to an area hospital after suffering an injury during practice when a teammate's hand caught him in the throat while his head was tilted back.
Walker struggled to breathe at first, but was released from the hospital soon after arriving and played in all three of OU's remaining games.
The senior also missed spring practices and April's spring game with a shoulder injury.
During Walker's sophomore season, in 2010, he played the first four games before suffering a knee injury and missing the next six contests. He returned for OU's final three games that year.
For his career, Walker has recorded 24 total tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles. He was slated to start at defensive tackle before his departure from the team.
OU beat UTEP, 24-7, without Walker, but the Sooner defense struggled against the Miners' sophomore running back, Nathan Jefferey, who rushed for 177 yards.
Seniors David King and Jamarkus McFarland played virtually the entire game because of OU's lack of depth at defensive tackle. Redshirt freshmen Jordan Phillips and Marquis Anderson played late Saturday, when the win was essentially clinched, but coaches did not put the backups in for any meaningful snaps.
Walker's news came just a couple weeks after another senior defensive tackle, Stacy McGee, was suspended indefinitely for violating university policy. McGee has 14 career starts.
“We'll be fine,” King said Monday. “Once we get these young guys accustomed to the game, we should be fine depth-wise.
“We should get Casey back here in a few weeks, and whenever coach Stoops lifts Stacy's suspension, we'll be fine.”