It was almost 20 years ago that redshirt senior running back Austin Walter’s father first realized his son might have a future in the football world.
“I first got into football when I was about 3 years old,” Walter said. “I remember being at my dad’s office, and I was [weaving] in and out of poles, and I almost ran into the street and got hit by a car. And my dad said, ‘You remind me of myself back in the day.’”
Two decades later, Walter’s youthful chaotic energy has manifested itself in his role as Rice’s premier triple threat on the football field. He’s still eluding defenders on a consistent basis — they’re wearing pads and helmets now instead of being stationary street poles — and this year, his production has skyrocketed. Through three games, he’s racked up 575 all-purpose yards, which ranked No. 1 in the country after the season’s first three weeks. He’s rushed for two touchdowns, hauled in 10 passes for 160 yards and averaged 28 yards per kickoff return. In Rice’s matchup against the University of Hawaii, he moved into seventh place in Rice history for all-purpose yardage, and into fifth all-time on the kick return list. According to Walter, this surge in production stems from a few different factors.
“It’s a combination of increasing my work ethic to another level, having good coaching from the new staff [and] more attention to detail,” Walter said. “[I realized] that this could potentially be my last year [at Rice], and if I want to play at the next level, I have to produce; I have to work hard; I have to do even more than what I was doing. If I felt like I was working hard then, well, it’s not hard enough.”
Walter grew up in nearby Crosby, Texas, where he played on a little-league football team co-founded by his parents; according to him, the team grew into an organization that’s now one of the largest in the North Houston area. From there, he went on to Crosby High School, where he was a two-time All-State honoree and the District 19-4A Player of the Year, rushing for over 2,700 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior. Preferring to stay close to home so his parents could watch him play, Walter then started the next chapter of his career at Rice. Now, as a senior, he said he can look back and point to a few experiences that have been particularly memorable.
“The coolest things that I’ve experienced in Rice football have been traveling to Hawaii and Australia,” Walter said. “I feel like those are things that I probably wouldn’t have done until later in my life, but Rice has granted me [that] opportunity. And off the field, what’s cool is just being challenged in the classroom every day. Nothing is really handed to you, you have to — just like on the football field — you have to bring your A-game.”
Walter also said although it’s challenging to be a student-athlete at a school like Rice, the skills his parents instilled in him at a young age have allowed him to succeed in both aspects.
“It’s tough, but you just have to know what hat to put on,” Walter said. “For the most part, I’m always thinking about football, but football isn’t everything. One thing my parents taught me is time management. So when I get home, or before practice, how I operate is I try to knock out most of my stuff when I can so I don’t have to worry about it later.”
Throughout Walter’s journey, one thing has remained constant. Aston Walter, a redshirt senior running back and Austin’s identical twin brother, has been with him every step of the way, from youth leagues to high school to the Rice football team. Austin said he has cherished their relationship the whole time.
“Stemming from little league to high school, [we were] in the backfield together, with him playing quarterback and me playing running back,” Austin said. “That twin telepathy thing is something I believe is real, and it’s even more evident when you’re in the backfield together. And it’s also been a blessing at the college level to still stay together, because honestly I don’t know how my life would be if I didn’t have my brother and my best friend.”
Currently, Aston wears No. 1 on his jersey, and Austin wears No. 2. But according to Austin, that wasn’t the case until a conversation with former head coach David Bailiff last year.
“Funny story: Coach Bailiff came up to us last June and said, ‘Hey, I think it would be cool if y’all did the whole twin thing, one and two,’” Austin said. “I couldn’t tell Coach Bailiff ‘no,’ so I was like, ‘of course.’ Honestly, I didn’t want to change my number, [but] it grew on me, so I have no complaints.”
Walter said his goals for the rest of the season are primarily team-focused, and that he isn’t necessarily focused on any individual goals. But after he graduates, he said he has a possible plan in mind.
“One day, I want to become an NFL general manager,” Walter said. “That’s such a long road that I’m developing my route right now; I’m thinking about getting my masters, potentially. I want to stay involved in the game, not necessarily coaching, but more so how to manage, how to build [and] how to construct a team.”
For now, though, he’ll keep churning his way deeper into Rice’s record books, one step at a time.