NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans signed tight end Delanie Walker in 2013 after he'd spent his first seven seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.
Since, Walker has developed into one of the NFL's top tight ends.
Walker is coming off a Pro Bowl season, when he set new team records among tight ends with 94 receptions and 1,088 receiving yards. He broke his own receiving yardage record and Frank Wycheck's reception record for franchise tight ends.
He's having another solid season in 2016.
Titans Online sat down with Walker recently about a number of topics, on the field and off it.
Here's how the conversation went….
What was Delanie Walker like as a teenager?*
Oh man. I wasn't the same Delanie Walker you see today. I was always an athletic, outgoing person, but I grew up in a different type of neighborhood. So when I went to school I was Delanie Walker the athlete, but when I got to the neighborhood I was just Delanie, and a lot of people really didn't know I played sports because I didn't want them to try and take advantage of me with that situation. So I carried myself a little differently.
I know I've talked to you about the strength of your mother. When you think about the impact she's had on your life, what comes to mind?
The impact my mom had on me and my brothers was her work ethic. She worked two jobs and was able to take care of two boys by herself, and she made sure we had the best clothes, the best shoes. So I learned that hard work pays off. The way she kept our head straight and made sure we were focused on our goals of going to school and being successful in life, I'll never forget that. At the time I thought my mom was struggling, but I realize she put herself in that situation so me and my brother could have a better life.
You didn't have an easy path to the NFL. I remember you telling me in the past you were suspended in high school, and had football taken away at one point. How much of a wake-up call was that for you?
I was suspended my junior year, and kicked off the team and missed the whole junior season. I had to fight and crawl and do everything I could to get back on the team, and once they let me back on the team I realized it was more than just me. It made me realize it wasn't just "me," it was a team. I let the team down by being a selfish person, and I only cared about myself at the time. I knew then I had to change.
After high school, you ended up at Central Missouri. That's a long way from Pomona, California. What was that experience like, and did you think you'd be able to make it to the NFL from there?*
It was a culture shock when I first got there. Going to Missouri from California, it was different. I saw Confederate flags, and I'd never seen them before. And they were flying. I had to adapt to my surroundings. I think I was always in a box back home in California, and when I went to Central Missouri it was the first time I stepped out of that box. When I went to Central, I knew I'd have an opportunity to get looked at by the NFL, but I didn't know if I'd be able to get drafted. I wanted to get a degree and focus on that. But as the year went on, I was having a great year and scouts were coming to the stadium, and I think my senior year I realized I might get drafted from the school and it worked out [as I was drafted in the sixth round].
You arrived here after playing in a Super Bowl during the 2012 season with the 49ers. How much have things changed on the team compared to when you first arrived?
When I first got here, the first year was OK. We won seven games. But then in the years after that we started spiraling down and didn't do very well. But now this year it is a totally different look, a totally different team, a totally different attitude. I would say the leadership is better. Guys were brought in who have won games. They know what it means to be a professional in this league, and they're surrounded with other good guys, and that has made a difference.
You have been very involved in the Nashville community, twice named the Titans Community Man of the Year (in 2013 and 2015). Why is that important to you?
In Nashville, there's so much I can put my hands in, and they gave me an opportunity to make a difference with my foundation. With the way I grew up, I understand sometimes these kids need positive role models because they don't always have that, and that is what I want to do.
Your involvement with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has been a big part of your work. You teamed with MADD to help raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving after losing your aunt and uncle in a car accident near New Orleans after Super Bowl XLVII. How much did that experience, losing them because of a drunk driver, impact your life?*
It made a big impact on my life, and my whole family's life. It really opened our eyes, because we really didn't know a lot about that culture, the drunk driving culture and how big it was. It made us look at ourselves, people around us, and I wanted to change that. Because the feeling that me and my family felt, I didn't want that to happen to anyone else.
With the Titans, you have broken several of Frank Wycheck's records, and you're on the verge of moving into second place on the franchise's all-time tight ends receptions list, behind Frank. What kind of interaction have you had with Wycheck over the years, and what do you remember about his game?
I am not going to say I know Frank real well personally, but we do have conversations, and I always try and show him mad respect when I see him, because he is one of the best to do this and to play the tight end position, especially for the Tennessee Titans. Every time we see each other we talk, and he'll ask me how my body is feeling and how I'm doing. He'll compliment me on how I run routes, or how I have been blocking. He always goes out of his way to praise me, and I thank him for that, because that means a lot coming from him.
I want to ask you about quarterback Marcus Mariota. What stands out most to you about him?
Just the way he handles pressure. Our first year here we didn't have a great year, and he had to take a lot of criticism. But he never bowed his head and he came back this year and he is having a great year. He works so hard and is such a good teammate. He's the kind of guy you want as the leader of your team.
Who has made the biggest impact on your NFL career?*
I would say (former 49ers teammates) Bryant Young and Larry Allen. Being able to play with those guys, Hall of Famers for sure, and seeing how they took care of their bodies and how they went about their business. I think I learned from just watching them becoming a sponge and seeing how they did it. I think that is why I have been able to play as long as I have.
How long do you think you'll continue to play?
I don't know. My contract, whenever it is up I think that will make 14 years. When I am on the field I feel like I am 25, but I know deep down inside I am getting old. But I still feel like I can run with the best of them, and until a team tells me I am not capable of doing that, then I am going to try and play as long as possible.
When your career is over, how do you want others to remember Delanie Walker?
I want them to say, "When Delanie went on that field he gave it 100 percent, every play." Outside of football, I want them to remember that he cared about the community.
When you do get out in the community and talk to kids, what is your message? What do you tell them?
My message is always education. I think education is the biggest key for the future of these kids, and to have them be successful. I always tell them about education. I rarely talk about sports, because if you are good at sports, you are going to be good in sports. I always tell them education is the key, and make sure that you love your parents, because at the end of the day, that's all you've got.