Oklahoma football: RB Tawee Walker getting his chance and making the most of it

Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Tawee Walker (29) scores a rushing touchdown against the Texas Longhorns during the first half at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Tawee Walker (29) scores a rushing touchdown against the Texas Longhorns during the first half at the Cotton Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

When you see Oklahoma football running back Tawee Walker for the first time, the image that comes quickly to mind is that of former Sooner Quentin Griffin, or “Q” as he was known to his teammates.

At 5-foot, 9 inches, Walker is a smidge taller than Griffin and about 20 pounds heavier than the former Sooner running back during his playing days at OU in the early 2000s. But Walker’s low center of gravity combined with his quickness and power makes him able to squirt through tight spaces and difficult to bring down, a style that greatly resembles what Oklahoma fans saw from Griffin.

Entering the 2023 season, it was widely believed that the Oklahoma cadre of talented running backs was the strength of the team. And this was after losing Eric Gray, the team’s leading rusher the year before, to the NFL. The 2023 running back roster included sophomore Jovantae Barnes and redshirt freshman Gavin Sawchuk, both of whom rushed for at least 100 yards in the Sooners’ Cheez-It Bowl loss to Florida State. And there was fifth year veteran Marcus Major, who was working his way back from injury.

You had to go four deep on the depth chart to find the name of Tawee Walker. Yet, lo and behold, it was Walker who was in the starting lineup in Oklahoma’s season opener at home against Arkansas State.

Walker’s journey to OU began in Las Vegas, Nevada, where he played football as a youth along with former Sooner running back Rhamondre Stevenson, now with the NFL New England Patriots. After high school in Peoria, Arizona, his only college scholarship offer was from Jackson State, where Deion Sanders was the head coach.

Walker ended up at Palomar Junior College in California. He played one season there, in 2021, carrying the ball 187 times for 875 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 19 passes for 189 yards. He transferred to Oklahoma for the 2022 season and walked on.

He played sparingly his sophomore season at Oklahoma, gaining 62 rushing yards in 18 carries, an average of 3.4 yards per carry. Walker is still a walk-on for the Sooners, but he did enough in spring ball and in fall training camp to earn the opportunity he had been working for.

Walker gained 44 yards on the ground, including two rushing touchdowns, and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in his starting role in the 73-0 win over Arkansas State to open the 2023 season. The following week, he totaled 117 rushing yards in 21 carries against SMU. In Week 3 against Tulsa, though, Walker did not get a single carry and carried the ball just nine times combined for a total of 32 yards in the wins over Cincinnati and Iowa State.

"“It’s a great example,” head coach Brent Venables told reporters recently. “He’s not out there as many snaps as other guys, but not everyone has the same role. Whatever role you have, maximize that opportunity.”"

And Walker is doing just that. Last Saturday in the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma’s biggest rival, Texas, he found himself on one of the biggest stages in college football, and he was ready and equal to the challenge, carrying the ball a team-high 15 times for a hard-earned 46 yards and two critical touchdowns.

“This is definitely the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” Walker told reporters after the Texas game. “Every carry was the best carry of my life…I just lived in the moment, and I loved it.”

Walker leads the team with 239 rushing yards, has the second-most touchdowns with four and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry.

One sportswriter summed up Walker’s performance and importance to the team this way:

“He isn’t the fastest running back and he might not even be the best running back on the team. But, right now, he’s the most consistent running back and playing better than anyone on the depth chart.

Venables say Walker’s mindset is as impressive as his play on the field.

"“He doesn’t say anything,” Venables said. “He literally doesn’t say anything. But he shows up and plays with toughness. Just a model of consistency."

The Sooners have yet to designate a No. 1 running back this season. But Walker is certainly playing like it.