Walter gives socks a boot NFL: Ken Walter, 25, has gone from collecting laundry in the Ravens' locker room to collecting raves as the Carolina Panthers' punter.

October 21, 1997|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In his other life, Ken Walter collected socks and jocks from players, footballs from every corner of the practice field and a generous dose of grief from Ravens special teams coach Scott O'Brien.

Those and other sundry duties were part of his job description as equipment intern at an NFL training camp. It was a job he held for five years, four with the now-displaced Cleveland Browns and last season with the Ravens.

By any other name, he was a ballboy.

These days, Walter lives the exhilarating life of a 25-year-old rookie punter for the Carolina Panthers.

A more startling success story you may not find in football.

Undrafted, unscouted and unappreciated following a modest career at Kent State, Walter shares the league lead with 16 punts inside the 20-yard line. His three touchbacks are tied for third fewest in the NFC, and his net average (including return yardage) of 38.0 yards is fourth in the conference.

Once, he lined up orange cones in training camp for coffin-corner kicks. Now, he aims for them.

Once, he trolled the locker room looking for laundry. Now, it's his place of business.

The odds he bucked to get here are mind-boggling.

"Kind of one in a million," said O'Brien, who ought to know.

"The kid was really impressive when he hung around us and worked in camp. The No. 1 thing, to kick or punt at this level, you have to have a live leg. He'd be bopping around and blast the thing 65 yards and you'd say, 'Who's this guy?' "

O'Brien is one of the people most responsible for putting Walter in position to make the improbable journey. He was the one who let the ambitious ballboy punt in camp drills, who allowed him into kickers' meetings for pointers, who taught him the mental side of the job.

"Scott built the framework for how to handle the thing mentally," Walter said. "He'd be all over me, cussing me, then turn around and smile at [Ravens kicker] Matt [Stover]. He was busting my butt. He gave me an opportunity with a lot of pressure. That's what I needed when I got up here.

"I can't thank that whole organization enough. It's a solid organization from top to bottom. A lot of people were behind me."

Among those people were Ed Carroll, the Ravens' equipment manager, who originally hired Walter and without whom there would be no success story; Ravens punter Greg Montgomery, who introduced Walter to Ray Pelfrey's kicking camp in Reno, Nev., a year ago; and Stover, who sent money when Walter spent more than three months in Reno fine-tuning his skills.

A native of Euclid, Ohio, Walter got his foot in the Browns' door in 1992. That's when high school teammate Jason Carroll -- Ed's son -- wrangled an intern's job with the Browns for both of them.

"He did a great job," Ed Carroll said of Walter. "The punters and kickers really liked him. They recognized the talent in him. He would do anything I asked him. At 7, he'd always ask, 'Can I go to Scotty's meetings?' "

At the end of a 7 a.m.-to-7 p.m. shift, Walter got insight into a punter's life watching tapes with O'Brien and the team's kickers.

"What helped him was being around NFL camps," O'Brien said. "When college players come to camp, they have no idea what dTC it's all about, no idea how to pace themselves. A guy watches Brian Hansen, Tom Tupa [former Brown] and Greg Montgomery, it's a learning experience. You can't put a price on that."

Walter's experiences at Kent State, where he was a walk-on, were mostly the hardship variety. Playing on a bad team, he had 230 punts over three seasons and averaged a modest 37.3 yards. When his college career ended in 1994, no pro team even granted him a tryout.

"The only way I stuck with it was other players telling me I had talent to do it," he said.

In 1996, Walter, still hoping for a break, decided to attend one last training camp with the newly transplanted Ravens. The break came when Montgomery recommended him to Pelfrey, the kicking guru in Reno.

Walter signed with Pelfrey, who represents kickers, then moved to Reno last December to devote full-time to the job. Last April, Pelfrey held a kicker's competition and some 25 NFL special teams coaches showed up.

"It was the worst weather they ever had in Reno," O'Brien said. "The kid did outstanding. They went in alphabetical order, and he's last. There's a 50-mph wind. He gets out there and puts on a show."

When Walter won the competition, at least eight teams were interested. He went to Carolina first for a tryout and signed a one-year contract the same day. Then he beat out Brian Gragert, a seventh-round draft pick by Denver in 1996, in the preseason.

In his third NFL game, Walter hit a 62-yard punt and averaged 53.3 per kick against San Diego. It was good enough for him to be named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

"The guy had gone through a lot of adversity as a punter," O'Brien said. "He had punts blocked, he had been knocked around [at Kent State], but he kept coming back. That shows mental toughness. It was preparing him for down the road."

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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