Saints coach Sean Payton glanced Saturday morning at his newest rookie before offering a nugget of advice in his dealings with General Manager Mickey Loomis.
“I don’t know when Mickey’s making him sign the contract,” said Payton, setting up his own punch line. “I’d make sure to look it over, though.”
Former Tulane safety Devon Walker smiled from his wheelchair, one of his life goals accomplished.
And what a Saturday it was for him.
First, a surprise trip to the Saints facility, highlighted by a contract with his favorite NFL team. Then, an afternoon at Tulane, where he was scheduled to graduate in cell and molecular biology.
“For me, it’s like one of my dreams come true,” Walker said of the honor.
He’s now on the roster. In the coming days, he will move to the reserve-retired list.
Walker on Saturday thought he was on his way to Drago’s to eat charbroiled oysters.
“I’ve been a Saints (fan) since before I was walking,” he said. “Just to be a part of the team and to be around the players is just more than I could have hoped for.”
Walker wanted to play professional football, dating to his childhood in New Orleans, his high school days at Destrehan and his college career as a safety at Tulane. His path changed Sept. 8, 2012, when he suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a game at Tulsa.
His goals in life have not changed.
“This kid deserves it all — very inspirational,” said Tulane coach Curtis Johnson, watching from several feet away. “Man, I love this kid.”
Walker, a former walk-on at Tulane who by his senior season was named team captain, continued to influence his teammates after his life-altering experience. He patrolled the Green Wave locker room last fall, making sure teammates maximized their ability — to run, to run even faster, to tackle — similar to the way he once roamed the secondary on game day.
Tulane reached the New Orleans Bowl, the program’s first bowl trip since 2002. His injuries, though, still require comprehensive 24-hour care.
Walker, 23, could have quit. Stop trying to be more than he is or could be.
Few would have criticized him.
“I think he doesn’t give up because he knows he inspires so many people,” said his sister, Yolan Walker-Bender. “All of the cards that he got when he was in (hospitals in) Tulsa and Atlanta, all of those people he knows and that are by his side, he just keeps going.”
This is not the end of Walker’s journey.
Up next: medical school.
He has always wanted to be an anesthesiologist or a pharmacist like Yolan. Now he’s exploring medical school options while weighing choices this summer for more intense rehab.