Nov. 3, 2013
(Note: This is the first in a series of five features on the Class of 2013 that will be inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m. in the Waggonner Room of the Thomas Assembly Center. The public is invited.)
By Keith Prince
Those who know Walter Johnson best and were most closely associated with his football career are not surprised when the Louisiana Tech two-time all-America defensive star modestly says, "I never thought about making a Hall of Fame, I just wanted to play football."
And, play football this Ferriday native did -- well enough to earn a slot in this year's Tech Hall of Fame induction class. The LA Tech Hall of Fame Induction ceremony is Saturday, Nov. 9 at 10 a.m. in the Waggonner Room of the Thomas Assembly Center and is open to the public.
"For Walter, it was all about competing," said his high school coach Jerry Baldwin, who said Johnson "was like a son" all the way through high school and Tech, where Baldwin was the defensive end`s position coach.
"Coach Baldwin was my coach for eight straight years from Ferriday through Tech, and he was the person who had the most influence on me on and off the field. I would never have had the success I had in football or the life I have had afterward without him," remarked Johnson, who has been married to his high school sweetheart, Angela Gregory, for almost 28 years.
The Johnsons have a daughter, Rosland, who resides in Baton Rouge, and a son, Chance who is in the seventh grade in Ferriday.
Baldwin said, "Walter had the most competitive spirit of anyone I've ever been around and that is one of the reasons he is the best football player I coached my entire career. He was just determined to out-work everybody. He would never take a day off or a playoff either in practice or in games. That has always been one of the special characteristics of Walter Johnson."
But there are also many other traits that have interwoven to make this new Tech Hall of Famer a man to remember.
Very highly recruited, including schools such as LSU and Texas A&M, Johnson played at Tech from 1983 through 1986 and started every game of his career. He still holds the school quarterback-sack record with 38, which is 16 more than the No. 2 man, Matt Broha (2008-2011).
"He played with such passion," remarked Jerry Arledge, Tech's defensive coordinator during Johnson's career. "He wasn't a vocal leader, but he was a tremendous leader by example. He inspired others with his day-to-day effort and performance.
"I think his greatest attribute was an innate ability to get to the ball carrier, whether it was sacking the quarterback or chasing down a running back on the opposite side of the field," said Arledge.
Tech teammate Karl Terrebonne, a solid wide receiver who led the Bulldogs in receptions in 1983, was two years ahead of Johnson, and he recalls, "We became friends quickly. He had a kid's attitude about life, and we had a lot of fun together. As for his athletic ability, Walter was the fastest defensive player I ever played with or against. For a while, teams underestimated how fast he was, and Walter just kept wrecking their offense."
Terrebonne added, "I guess the thing I have always appreciated most about Walter is that success never changed him. One of my fondest memories came at a Dallas Cowboys camp when Walter spotted me walking in the cafeteria and hollered for me to come eat with him. He has always been loyal and true to his friends."
A.L. Williams, another member of the Tech Hall of Fame, was the Bulldogs' head football coach while Johnson was wreaking defensive havoc and he wastes no time ranking Walter's athletic talent.
Williams said of Johnson during his playing days, "I doubt there is a quicker defensive player in college football. I think he is the best defensive lineman Tech's had since Fred Dean (now in the NFL Hall of Fame). He reminds me so much of Dean the way he pursues the football."
West Texas coach Bill Kelly termed Johnson, then a Tech senior, "the quickest defensive lineman we played against this year. I couldn't believe how quick he got into our backfield. It was like he knew the plays we were running before we ran them. He would just be waiting for us."
Williams added, "Walter had everything you could want in a pass rusher. First, he went 100 percent every play. He was also extremely quick (4.4 in the 40) and strong, and I still remember how he could jump, which made him an outstanding special teams player. He had four or five blocked kicks during one season."
There was something else that Williams and his coaching staff liked about Johnson. "When you talked to Walter, his response was always `Yes Sir' or `No Sir.' He wanted to please his coaches, and I know that he inspired our other players."
Another member of Tech's coaching staff at that time was Joe Raymond Peace, who directed the Bulldogs' conditioning program and later became Tech`s head coach. "Walter's enthusiasm and passion for football carried over big-time into the weight room. And, his competitive nature was always there.
"Nobody outworked Walter in the weight room and as a result he was our strongest player at that time. He lifted 550 pounds and he worked out all the time, often twice a day. He had a great work ethic and was simply a perfect guy to coach," said Peace, "There's no question that Walter Johnson belongs in the Tech Hall of Fame." Tech enjoyed solid success while Johnson was playing for the Bulldogs, marching all the way to the 1-AA national championship game in 1984 when he was named All-America for the first time.
Johnson had 11 sacks and 76 total tackles that season, blocked two kicks (he blocked four in 1985), and over his career he finished with 327 tackles, 12 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries and 23 pass break ups.
As an indication of his leadership ability, Walter was selected permanent team co-captain as a senior, when he was also named the Louisiana Sportswriters Association`s "Defensive Player of the Year" for all football schools in Louisiana.
As a senior, Johnson was also chosen Southland Conference "Co-Defensive Player" of the year while making first team All-SLC for the third straight season. Johnson had also been named the league's "Newcomer of the Year" in 1983 as a freshman.
As icing on the collegiate cake, Walter also participated in the East-West Shrine game and later that spring was selected by the Houston Oilers in the second round of the NFL draft. He was Louisiana`s highest NFL draftee that year.
Johnson went on to play three years with the Oilers before being traded to New Orleans where he played another year. Johnson was then traded to Indianapolis where his NFL career ended that season when he "tore a shoulder up."
Johnson returned to Ruston where he purchased a business (service station/convenience store) and operated it for 11 years before moving back to Ferriday in 2000. "It was hard work, 18 hours a day. I think owning a small business is the hardest thing you can do."
Today, Walter Johnson is in his 13th year working off shore (14 days on, 14 days off), where he has several men working under him in equipment upkeep.
Johnson also assists in coaching the Ferriday High School football team when he's at home and leases out a fish market there that he operated when he originally moved back to Ferriday.
As a coach, himself, Walter says, "My message to those kids every day is that in order to play football, you have to get an education and be a good citizen in your community. It is very easy for me to see that despite what we sometimes hear about kids of today, they want discipline and they need structure. I tell them that the choices they make today will be with them for the rest of their life."
Walter says that "Like football, I have always had a passion for hunting and fishing. Me and a couple of buddies find plenty of time to get to the outdoors."
And, guess what? He is just as competitive today as he was during his football playing days. "I still work out regularly and can lift about 450 pounds today. I also enjoy shooting basketball," says the versatile athlete who scored in double figures during his high school cage days.
As for hunting -- and he says he likes to hunt rabbits the best -- he admits that he and his No. 1 hunting partner "have a competition with each other every time we go out there." Asked if he can out-shoot his partner," Johnson said with a chuckle, "I sure can." Asked if his partner agrees with that assessment, Walter said, "Definitely not."
He then added, "But that's what competition is all about, and that's why I love it."