JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Imagine battling the pressure of studying for your final college exams and dealing with the anxiety that comes with missing an early stage of your NFL development at the same time.
Forced to stay in Los Angeles while his fellow Jaguars rookies took part in drills on the other side of the country, wide receiver Kenneth Walker had no choice but to balance his school studies with his daily football film cram sessions.
The UCLA alum was forced to delay his on-site NFL training due to the league's graduation rule. Rookies aren't allowed to attend the offseason program until their final exams are completed.
UCLA uses the quarters system as oppose to semesters, which extends exams into June. Walker's final exams were completed on June 10, just in time for his return to Jacksonville for the start of mandatory minicamp on Tuesday.
Walker earned his bachelors' degree in African American Studies following the exams.
The 5-foot-9, 188-pound wide receiver also earned Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone's respect with his study habits.
"I was talking to players about making sure that we’re putting in the extra work, we’re watching what we’re doing," Marrone said. "I just took a peek at who’s watching what and who’s doing what and I was looking and I was like, ‘Walker, Walker, who the heck is Walker?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh yeah he’s out in California,’ and I’m looking and I’m saying, ‘Holy cow, he’s watched everything.'"
"I probably don’t know him that well -- I told this to the team -- but I don’t know him that well, I might not be able to pick him out of a lineup right now, but whoever he is, I like him and he’s going to have a chance to make this team because he’s doing the things that he should do to be a pro. I think that’s the message I’m trying to get across to all our players doing everything the right way.”
Walker studied Jaguars film for two hours each day. The 23-year-old would also have to focus on his school work, but he made sure he was on top of his playbook throughout his time away from EverBank Field.
"I didn't want to come here not knowing anything," Walker said. "Because if I didn't know anything then I wouldn't have that chance to just out there the first day [of minicamp] and take some reps."
Walker was eager to get back to the team. He is someone who thrives on individual teaching, a method he couldn't experience while in school.
"I think everybody would have anxiety at that point," Walker said. "Mainly because you're not there. You're not getting the one-on-one work that some players need, like me. Some players are good with one-on-one work but me, I need one-on-one work, being able to talk to the coach face to face. The only thing I did was just text my coach and he would send me the OTA plays and I would just look iPad and learn the playbook like that."
Walker's former college teammate Myles Jack went through the same process last season. They've been reunited in the Jaguars' locker room, but Walker said he didn't speak with Jack while he awaited his return.
Walker focused on learning his responsibilities as a Jaguars wide receiver. He didn't want to fall behind.
He arrived in Jacksonville earlier this week and was able to take part in all three days of mandatory minicamp.
"The weight has lifted but I've still got a lot to work on, especially as a receiver, and I want to get on these special teams," Walker said.
The wide receiver said he was surprised the team waited on him as an undrafted free agent. He was worried about how his restrictions would impact his standing with the team this summer.
Marrone said Walker's effort showed while he was away, which is why his absence isn't being held against him.
"He did a good job getting himself ready when he wasn’t allowed to be here, making sure he was watching tape and plays and things of that nature," Marrone said. "It’s just a matter of getting going. You don’t like throwing those guys in right away because they haven’t earned that opportunity, but Ken’s situation is different. He wasn’t allowed to be here."
Walker will continue to study film and the playbook over the next few weeks. He will prepare heavily for training camp, so he can compete for a spot on the Jaguars' active roster or 10-man practice squad.
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.
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