NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Delanie Walker still remembers the "whuppings" he got from his mom.
He had it coming.
As a youngster growing up in Pomona, Calif., Walker was a troublemaker, something he freely admits. And his mother, who raised Walker and his brother on her own while working two jobs, stayed on him.
"Nowadays, you can't even touch your kids or you are going to jail,'' Walker said. "Back then, when I did something wrong it was 'go get a switch off the tree, and it better not break.' My mom stayed on us. She didn't want me to go down the wrong path. I grew up in a neighborhood where there was gang violence, seeing things that little kids shouldn't have to see. Those things could make or break you.
"And my mom did everything she could to keep us straight. We had discipline. So I got whupped."
Still, Walker didn't immediately get the message. At the age of 14, the thought of going to "youth prison" in Los Angeles scared him.
But it wasn't until his junior year in high school, when he had something taken away, that Walker got serious. That something was football.
"I was suspended multiple times [in high school]. My junior year, they kicked me out of school,'' Walker recalled. "At one point, I was trying to get into other schools, and no schools would accept me. I couldn't play football for a whole year. There was a time where I didn't think I was going to be able to play football again.
"When [football] was taken away from me, they were telling me I might not get a chance [in college] with the attitude I had. And that's what got me on the right track. I changed my attitude. I finally changed, because I finally wanted to change. And because I was lucky enough to have a mom who stayed on me."
Change did Walker good.
Walker is in his 10th NFL season, his third with the Tennessee Titans. He's developed into one of the league's top tight ends. He's also turned into a huge success story off the field.
Walker recently broke former Oilers-Titans tight end Frank Wycheck's franchise record for the most receptions in a season by a tight end, and on Sunday against the Patriots he broke his own franchise record for most receiving yards in a season by a tight end.
Heading into Sunday's game against the Texans, Walker has 76 catches for 935 yards, with six touchdowns. Counting the seven seasons he spent with the San Francisco 49ers, Walker has 322 catches for 3,861 yards and 24 touchdowns in his NFL career.
He's also been a big role model. Earlier this month, Walker was named the 2015 Titans recipient of the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. It marked the second time Walker received the honor, after being named the Titans Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2013. The award recognizes a player for his excellence on and off the field, and Walker has been a community hero in Tennessee.
He's also set a great example for his teammates with the Titans.
"[Delanie] is a good person that guys like myself can look up to and try and be like,'' Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "He has done it for a long time in this league. The way he carries himself, I think guys can really relate to that and learn from him."
Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey praised Walker for his performance, and presence.
"He is such a good player,'' Mularkey said. "Delanie is good for this whole team. He is good for this locker room, and he is good for this organization. …. He represents this organization and his family and everybody well, on and off the field, the way he does everything.
"He's an easy guy to follow for young players, in everything he does."
Yet the road was hardly an easy one — or straight one — for Walker.
After avoiding the street life that sucked in many of his friends, Walker finished his high school career, and became a first-team All-Region selection by the Los Angeles Times. Poor grades, however, forced him to play at Mt. San Antonio (Calif.) Community College for two seasons.
From there, Walker went to Central Missouri State, where he initially struggled to adapt to his surroundings. He wanted to come back home. His mother, Vicy Walker, talked him into sticking it out. She wanted him to work for a better life for himself, and she knew he was a gifted athlete.
Walker ended up doing enough to get noticed by NFL scouts. He played in 20 games at the school and broke into the record books as an all-purpose performer. The 49ers drafted him in the sixth round of the 2006 NFL Draft and his career was set in motion.
Today he's regarded as one of the game's toughest and most reliable tight ends. His accomplishments in 2015 followed up a season when he led the Titans in receiving yards (890) and catches (63).
"He's good at everything,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Walker. "He's a really hard guy to match up on. You put the little guys on him and he's too big. You put the big guys on him and his quickness, his route running ability, his length, they're a problem. So it seems like whoever is covering him, when you look at the tape, you're looking like that's a mismatch. There is nobody that really matches up very well against him.
"I can see why they throw it to him so much. It's because he's always open. Even when he's covered, he's open, because of his length and his ability to go up and timing on jump balls and his hands, catching the ball away from his body. He does a really good job."
Walker, who has played in 142 career games, including a Super Bowl with the 49ers, knows he's been blessed.
When he talks to youngsters in the community, he tells them his story. It reminds him regularly of just how fortunate he considers himself.
Looking back, Walker knows he could've gone down the wrong path. He credits his mother, but knows he also had to make a change himself.
He's glad he did.
"When I speak to the kids, I tell them: 'Respect your parents, because they are the only ones that are going to love and care for you.' My mom did that. She cared for me, and she loved me, and I respected her. And when I did wrong and I embarrassed her, I felt really bad that I embarrassed my mother and the community I lived in,'' Walker said.
"But I had to finally change, and I did. I tell that to people, too — you have to want it for yourself.
"Yeah, I feel fortunate. Who knows what I would have been doing if I didn't change? I have friends who are gang-bangers. I feel like I am in a great situation, and I am blessed to be in this situation. I feel very fortunate."