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\With the Ahmaud Arbery trial now in the hands of a jury, one prominent Detroit Lions player is paying especially close attention to its outcome.
"Honestly, I pray these people get locked up," Lions safety Tracy Walker said Monday. "Like I said, I’m going to call it what it is, they don’t see the time of day again, they don’t get to see no daylight. They deserve that, man. So that’s what I feel."
Walker played with a heavy heart last season after his cousin and former high school teammate, Arbery, was fatally shot by three men in rural Georgia.
The three men, Travis McMichael, his father, Gregory McMichael, 65, and their neighbor, William Bryan, 53, pleaded not guilty to a nine-count indictment that included charges of felony murder.
The three also face federal hate crime charges.
Walker struggled on the field last season during what he has said was an emotional year. Along with Arbery's death, Walker and his wife, Bella, welcomed their first child, a son, amid a global pandemic, and former Lions coach Matt Patricia benched him as a motivational ploy at the start of training camp in favor of Will Harris.
Walker has had a bounce-back 2021 season. He is second on the Lions (0-9-1) with 61 tackles, has four pass breakups and has been one of the team's best defensive players.
"I was always taught this, even when you’re feeling down, nobody really cares so at the end of the day, if I’m having a bad day I still got to do my job and come here and be the best person I can possibly be," Walker said. "I got to be the best teammate, be the best leader. So with that being said, I’ve built an understanding, man, and shit, my toughness, man is out the roof.
"Last year, maybe around this time it would have been a little bit different, but now that I got a little experience, a little time to absorb it and get a better understanding of it. At the end of the day, I just got to control what I control. That’s what it boils down to at bottom. So that’s all I got to do is control what I control."
Arbery was killed Feb. 23, 2020, when prosecutors allege the defendants saw a Black man running through their neighborhood and pursued him after wrongfully suspecting he committed a burglary.
Defense attorneys insist Arbery was shot in self defense.
Walker said he has monitored the trial closely since it started earlier this month.
"I’ve been following with it quite well actually and that process," he said. "Like I said, I only can do so much and I got to sit back and I got to let the D.A. and everybody else handle that. My part I feel like has been done and I still do my part by continuing to speak on Ahmaud and continuing to hold it down for Cuz. But yeah, that’s a tough situation."
The case was sent to jurors Tuesday morning, after a special prosecutor spent two hours rebutting closing arguments by the defense.
Walker said he is not sure what verdict to expect.
"Anything can happen," he said. "I mean, things always happen, things always go against what it should be or what I might feel, my opinion. Yeah, everybody’s opinionated and some people might feel otherwise. I’m not on that jury, so I can’t give my answer on what should happen, but that’s what I believe. I believe they deserve to rot in prison."
One of the Lions' top pending free agents, Walker said he hopes to stay in Detroit once his contract is up.
"I wouldn’t mind," he said. "I definitely see myself (staying), but like I said, I got to control what I can control. Anything can happen. I go out here, I give it my all to these guys, the coaching staff, the whole nine. Like I said, God willing, I’m going to be here. If not, so be it, I’ll go take my talents elsewhere. But I hope I’m here."
Lions secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant said Walker has made "progressive improvement" this season to emerge as the leader of the young Lions secondary.
The Lions have started two rookies at cornerback for most of the season, alongside third-year defensive back Amani Oruwariye, with Walker and Harris at safety.
"There’s some things that maybe he didn’t do well in the preseason or early in the year that he’s gotten better," Pleasant said. "I think that’s because it’s important to him. I think he understand where we are as a team, and also ask him to be a little bit more of a leader, which I think is something he’s accepted."
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions' Tracy Walker wants to stay after bounce-back year