Doak Walker’s legacy is celebrated every year as part of the PwC SMU Athletic Forum’s Doak Walker Award Presentation Banquet, named for the former SMU running back and 1948 Heisman Trophy winner.
This year, Friday’s banquet celebrated former Alabama running back Derrick Henry’s Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back in college football each year. It also presented Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders with the 2015 Doak Walker Legends Award. More than 1,000 people attended the banquet, which was held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas, to honor Walker.
“Doak was an incomparable icon for us in the 1940s, while he was playing at SMU,” CBS college football announcer Verne Lundquist said. “You know the records, you know the Heisman, you know the 21 magazine covers. He not only ran, he passed, he intercepted balls, he blocked, he tackled, he placekicked. Those of us lucky to know him have such vivid and fond memories of him.”
Lundquist, who was close friends with Walker for more than 20 years until Walker’s death in 1998, still hosts a golf tournament in Steamboat Springs, Colo. each summer in Walker’s honor. Walker lived in Steamboat Springs for much of his post-football life.
National recognition aside, SMU football embraces Walker’s impact and legacy as well. Not just as a player, but also as motivation to return to the level of winning the program experienced with Walker.
“To know that our university is associated with that, it gives me great pride, and knowing that we have to get back to that level where they were when Doak was around,” SMU Head Football Coach Chad Morris said.
Henry, the 2015 winner and also the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner, spent the earlier part of Friday with Walker’s alma mater. He worked out at SMU’s football facilities, had lunch with the Walker family and visited Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
“For him to want to spend some time to come up to our university and work out and just spend some time with us, that was really special and said a lot about him,” Morris said.
Sanders won the 1988 Heisman Trophy when he played at Oklahoma State. He played 10 years with the Detroit Lions and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His 15,269 rushing yards are the third-most in NFL history. Like Sanders, Walker played for the Detroit Lions.
Henry set an SEC record with 2,219 rushing yards and totaled 28 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide, which went 14-1 in 2015 and won its fourth national title in the last seven years. He also won the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top player. The Yulee, Fla. native declared for the NFL draft following the season.
“The Walker family, SMU, this entire event is a surreal moment for me,” Henry said. “Winning this award for the best college running back and to be here with Barry Sanders, I’m like a kid in a candy store, surrounded by some of the greats of all time.”