March 18, 2016 - Aaron Wilson
Ravens corner Tray Walker dies in motorbike accident, remembered fondly
A year ago, Tommy Lee Walker's ashes were spread off of the waters of Miami by his family months after he died of a heart attack.
It was one day after his son, Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker, was drafted in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens.
The Walker family suffered another tragic loss Friday afternoon when Tray Walker died of head injuries sustained in a motorbike accident in Miami, Fla., according to the Ravens and his agent, Ronald Butler. Walker was 23 years old.
Walker had been in intensive care after undergoing surgery for massive head trauma at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
"I'm in shock right now," former Ravens defensive end Chris Canty said in a text message. "His locker was right next to mine. The sky was the limit for him as a player. Just a young man that needed guidance, but had a desire to be successful on and off the field. Prayers and condolences for all of his loved ones, teammates and friends. Tragic."
A fourth-round draft pick last year, Walker was riding a Honda dirt bike when he collided with a car at an intersection, according to police. Police said Walker wasn't wearing a helmet and the bike didn't have headlights and Walker was wearing dark clothing.
"We have two sons not too much older than Tray, and we can't imagine how much his family is suffering," Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said. "This is so sad. The right words are hard to find at a time like this. As much as we can comfort Tray's mom and the rest of his family, we will."
Walker was remembered by teammates and coaches as a hard-working, polite young man.
"Tray was a young man with a good and kind heart," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He was humble and loved everything about being part of the Ravens’ team. He loved his teammates, the practice and the preparation, and that showed every day. He was coachable, did his most to improve and worked to become the best.
"I'll never forget that smile. He always seemed to be next to me during the national anthem; then we would give each other a big hug. May he rest in the Peace of Christ Jesus forever."
Walker played in eight games last season as a rookie for the Ravens and primarily operated on special teams. He recorded one tackle.
"Tray was a young man who was full of energy and promise," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "This is very hard to wrap my head around, and I am devastated. As a parent, I cannot imagine what his family is going through right now. All of my thoughts are with them. My hope is that we can be a little bit of help by being a second family for them.”
Added Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith: "Times like this make you hug your kids tighter. A mother lost her son today, and a family lost their brother, including us, his extended family. Tray had a bright future ahead of him outside of football and was a guy who lit up the room with his personality. I will miss seeing him every day and seeing that bright smile he always wore. I pray that his family can find peace. Rest well, Tray.”
Walker was the first Texas Southern player drafted since wide receiver Joey Jamison in the 2000 NFL draft by the Green Bay Packers as their fifth-round draft pick. He was the school's highest draft pick since center Joe Burch was picked in the third round by the New England Patriots in 1994.
"He was very competitive on the football field," former TSU coach Darrell Asberry said. "The key to Tray Walker was getting to know Tray and understanding Tray. We were fortunate enough to develop each other's trust. It's just a sad, sad time right now for the family.
"Here's a young man who has worked so hard to get his degree, get drafted. I'll never forget when I first met Tray, I told him 'Son, you have a million dollars written all over you. It's just unfortunate that this situation has happened. I was eating and just lost my whole appetite.
It's just a tough time for the Texas Southern family."
Walker intercepted nine career passes while competing in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
"He loved his college, his teammates, coaches," Butler said. "He was big in terms of giving back. He spent a lot of time there in the offseason."
An imposing press cornerback at 6-2, 200 pounds, Walker ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. He had a 36 1/2 inch vertical leap and a 10-7 broad jump.
However, Walker wasn't invited to the NFL scouting combine, instead competing at the NFL super regional combine. Before the NFL draft last year, Walker visited the Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcon. Walker had private workouts with the Arizona Cardinals and Texans.
"I just thank God that I had the privilege and the honor to be a part of his life for three years and develop a friendship where we still talked, even up to this accident," Asberry said. "We would talk twice a week. Sometimes we'd just text, checking on each other. At the end of each text we would always say 'We love you.'" TSU was the only school to offer him a scholarship out of Northwestern High School in Miami. Walker played in high school with Oakland Raiders wide receiver Amari Cooper and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Both were first-round draft picks.
"We were deeply saddened to hear about the recent accident involving Tray Walker," TSU vice president of athletics Charles McClelland said. "Tray was an outstanding student-athlete and an equally impressive young man off the field during his time here at Texas Southern. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time."
A recruiting afterthought out of high school, Walker developed into an NFL player despite being overlooked initially by college recruiters and NFL scouts.
"I really can't explain that," Walker said last year after signing a four-year, $2.625 million contract. "Maybe I didn't have much help. I wasn't recognized by most Division I schools. I was only a buck-seventy-five coming out of high school.
"Personally, my athletic ability has always been there. I played against those top guys, Amari Cooper, Teddy Bridgewater, Devonta Freeman. For them to go to a Division I school, I felt like they had better opportunities. I always felt like I could play up to that potential. felt as if coming from a SWAC school we are overlooked. We don't get as much publicity as other schools, I do feel that way."
Walker was determined to prove himself even while playing sparingly as a rookie while adjusting to a higher level of football.
“My heart is heavy as these words come out of my mouth," Ravens secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. "I pray for Tray’s family and his loved ones. In football, you preach to your players to play every play as if it were their last. But to think that we are now going lay a player to rest is unbelievable. Tray was a young man who had a way about him that he could light up a room with his smile. Once you got to know him, he was one of the funniest guys. Whenever I got angry, he could make me laugh in a tense situation and bring me back to a cooler head.
"He challenged me as a coach, because he had a thirst for knowledge. And although things didn't always go his way, he was ready for the next battle or challenge that you presented to him. He had a vision of what he wanted to be as a player, and after last season he left our building determined that in 2016 he would be a household name in Baltimore. He had so much potential and was on his way to being a great NFL player. He will be missed and will never be forgotten.”
For those close to Walker, it was a crushing, shocking loss for a promising young NFL player to die at such a young age.
"I am taking this news pretty hard, because he was a guy who I took under my wing to help him with any little advice that I had gained from being in the NFL for a short amount of time," Ravens safety Terrence Brooks said. "We vowed to each other to stick together and push each other. We both shared similar life experiences growing up in Florida. We sat together every day during meetings. He was like a little brother to me. I especially remember times he would drop by my house, and we would have long talks and laughs just about the NFL and everyday life. I truly felt a brotherly bond with him.
“Tray was a young man with so much life experience. I feel like he was much more of a man just because of where he grew up. Football was his escape. Not many understood that. It hurts my heart that he's not getting the chance to show the world just what type of man and football player he was going to. One thing I do know is that Tray will never leave my side. He will be watching over me every step of the way. I see just how precious life is, and I will fully dedicate my season to Tray.”