The eyes peel back as the defense switches practice fields. That's when heart and mind would love to go put back on the pads just one more time. It's a daily urge that former Vol Chris Walker deals with being back in Knoxville.
"It's a heavy instinct in me," Walker said. "Especially in a place that is so familiar to you. You get a feeling to want to be back out there. You get a feeling of wanting to be back out there because you get all the feelings and emotions of when you used to do it. Being at practice or at the games just gives you that urge."
The former 4-star sees the game a bit differently these days. He's able to attend tailgates and make an impact off the field, but that doesn't stop him from going down memory lane.
"Every time I'm at a game on on the practice field, I'll see a situation or an interaction between teammates and I'll remember back," Walker said. "It brings back all types of memories. The kids are different, but it's still the same culture. It's still college football at a high level."
Walker is back on Rocky Top as the campus director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It's a role that he relishes as a walking witness for his faith.
"It's been incredible," Walker said. "To be able to have this influence with these athletes. I remember it was such a huge part of the life of the athletic department when I was here. I hope that we can continue that because we feel like we can bring something to these athletes that will help benefit them in their spiritual life, but life as well."
As a high school senior, Walker had the opportunity to go just about anywhere he wanted. The Christian Brothers standout had relationships with many of the top coaches in college football, but it was one man that made an indelible impact that changed his life for the better.
"It was coach Fulmer," Walker said. "He was different than every other coach that came to my home. Football was going to take care of itself wherever I went. I wanted to be around great people and coach Fulmer came to my home and spent four and a half hours. He only talked about football for 20 minutes. That's the type of man I wanted to be around. He brought coach (Kurt) Roper and coach (Matt) Luke with him and they were pivotal as well, but coach Fulmer is why I came here."
Once he arrived at Tennessee, Walker became close with team Chaplin James Mitchell. Another relationship for Walker that still flourishes to this day.
"The way he took on and came close to God with our discipleship," Mitchell said. "The way his choices changed and the decisions he made. Seeing how he became a good leader off the field. I think that means the most. I think his ability to build a relationship with anybody. He had that already, but to take it to another level and reach people and help them grow. Just his ability to relate and reach people through spiritual or character development."
It's Walker now helping guide Volunteers through their daily walk with God. The teaching that he learned a decade ago are still fresh as he turns back the clock with his ability to impact the way Mitchell did.
"I talk to Mitch all the time," Walker said. "He's a spiritual father to me. I'm almost a direct replica of him because of what he taught me. That's what I'm bringing over. The love that he gave me and showed me was the love that I needed. Hopefully I can show some of these athletes the same type of love, care and mentorship that he showed me."
Just like his mother Gloria Walker, Chris impacts everyone around him with just a smile and an infectious personality. He's been given the unique opportunity to make an impact all over campus and head coach Butch Jones has made sure he's welcome daily in his old neck of the woods.
"It's been incredible," Walker said. "To have a coach that doesn't know me but knows I'm a former player. He sees the importance and my ability to make an impact on guys. Having me around as another voice is big and he's been able to allow me to be at practice and on the sideline at games. That's just another outlet to build relationships and love these guys."
The word relationship means everything to Walker. And that's where he sees such similarities between his coach and the current man leading the Vols.
"Coach Fulmer and Butch have an incredible way with people," Walker said. "Relationships they build and I think that is what kids are looking for right now. It's not changed very much. We were looking for relationships and so are kids now and a lot of recruiting battles are won with relationships."