Joey Walters - Wide Receiver - Clemson - 1978-82
Joey Walters: Forme Rider Happy to still be involved in football - Rob Vanstone - Regina Leader Post - December 23, 2006
Joey Walters feels he is blessed with many gifts -- such as his family and his continuing involvement with football.
But some gifts will have to wait.
"I don't get a Christmas,'' the former Saskatchewan Roughriders receiver says with a chuckle from Orlando, Fla. "As a matter of fact, I have to celebrate Christmas after Jan. 1.
"I have all my gifts that I take home to family and friends. All of that takes place on Jan. 2 and Jan. 3.''
Two other dates are the immediate priority.
Walters works with Orlando-based Florida Citrus Sports, which produces two imminent college football bowl games -- the Champs Sports Bowl (Purdue vs. Maryland, scheduled for Friday) and Capital One Bowl (Arkansas vs. Wisconsin, Jan. 1). Both games are to be played at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.
The 52-year-old Walters is the director of operations for those games. In that capacity, he will be very busy on Christmas Day. Walters is also the director of the Walt Disney World Florida Classic -- "presented by State Farm ... I must keep my sponsors happy!'' -- which is a black college football game. In the 27th Classic, played Nov. 18, Florida A&M defeated Bethune-Cookman 35-21.
Once bowl season is over and Christmas is belatedly celebrated, Walters will turn
his attention to the Florida Citrus Sports Camp for economically disadvantaged children. The camp, which has sporting and educational components, runs from June to August. Walters is the director of the camp, which is offered free of charge to 450 kids. Walters never fell into the category of economically disadvantaged -- which is a tribute to his mother, Mary. Mary's husband, Joseph Walters, was stabbed to death in 1961, leaving her to raise three kids -- Joey, Edith and Lynn. At the time, Mary and her children were living in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"We were middle class,'' a proud son recalls. "I'm pretty sure Mom had to rob Peter to pay Paul, but we got a lot of the things that we needed and never wanted anything. She always found a way to make it happen for us and give us what we could get.
"It was tough. She was a strong lady to pull that off and definitely committed to what she was doing and how she wanted her children to turn out. She was dedicated to making that happen.''
Walters, who was born in Florence, S.C., returned to that city with his family after Grade 5. Around that time, he was playing football in Florence's Boys' Club.
"I was an offensive lineman,'' says Walters, who was 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds when he starred for the Riders.
"I probably thinned out a bit. I was a little chubby kid back then. At that point in time, they're just telling you where to play and putting you out there.''
Walters found his calling as a playmaker when he enrolled in all-black Wilson High School, where he played quarterback. After he spent Grades 9 and 10 at Wilson, Florence's high schools were integrated. Walters moved to West Florence High School where, at most, 20 per cent of the students were black.
At West Florence, he not only changed schools, but also positions. The football team already had a quarterback, so Walters became a receiver -- and a productive one at that -- without being on the receiving end of bigotry.
"That was during an era when racism and that kind of thing was still in effect,'' he says. "In a lot of places it's still in effect, but it was more prevalent then.
"On the field or in the heat of competition, (racism) wasn't as evident because, white and black, we were all working for a common goal. We all got along as one. We all were like family.
"I guess when you're out there in battle together, you look past that. You're all fighting for one another and you build a bond. That's why (racism) probably didn't affect a lot of athletes. As well, you had blacks and whites cheering for you at the same time. That was a buffer to some degree that maybe other kids didn't have the opportunity to enjoy.''
Walters enjoyed playing under West Florence head coach Clyde Wrenn in Grade 11. The following year, Wrenn left the high school to become a recruiter with Clemson University. One of his first recruits was one Joey Walters, who remains close to Wrenn to this day.
After graduating from Clemson, Walters was recruited by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He was injured and subsequently released following a brief stint with the 1977 Blue Bombers. The Roughriders promptly made a waiver claim.
Walters quickly found a home in Regina, where he established a rapport with quarterback Ron Lancaster. In 1978, Walters caught the final touchdown pass of Lancaster's storied career.
In 1981, Walters enjoyed his first spectacular season with the Roughriders, catching 91 passes for 1,715 yards (which is still a team single-season record) and 14 touchdowns. The following season, he made 102 receptions (a league record at the time) for 1,692 yards and six majors. He was named an all-Canadian and the Roughriders' most popular player in 1981 and 1982.
"The highlight has to be getting a chance to play with Ron Lancaster, experiencing the rich history of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and the fans,'' says Walters, a 1990 inductee into the team's Plaza of Honor.
"Getting a chance to interact with them and being part of the community -- being a part of the people, as opposed to just a professional athlete -- was enjoyable.''
The same cannot be said of the events which immediately followed the 1982 season. As a free agent, Walters weighed offers from the Roughriders and the United States Football League's Washington Federals.
Walters and the Riders agreed on the dollar figure. There was only one problem: The team would not pay Walters in American funds, which would have made a difference of "20 or 30 grand.''
"All I wanted them to do was pay my changeover rate, because the changeover was killing me,'' he says.
"I felt that the team could have definitely kept me there, because it wasn't a big demand. It was like leaving a part of your family, especially from a fan perspective. It wasn't anything I wanted to do.''
Walters continued to excel while playing for the USFL's Federals (in 1983 and 1984) and Orlando Renegades (1985). In 1984, he caught 98 passes for 1,410 yards and 13 TDs.
Walters wrapped up his football career -- at least as a participant -- as a replacement player with the Houston Oilers during the 1987 NFL strike. Aside from that, he has remained in Orlando, where he joined Florida Citrus Sports (which is involved in about 150 events per year) in 1999.Another gift arrived in 2003, when Walters' wife, Patricia, gave birth to the couple's first child, Leo.
Joey, Patricia and Leo will soon head to Florence to visit their families for Christmas in January. Walters had an extra reason to return home last year. On Jan. 14, he was among the inaugural inductees into the Florence Area Hall of Fame.
"I'm blessed,'' he concludes. "You have your ups and downs, there's no doubt, but I've been blessed my whole life and really able to live a dream.''
--Great Moments 1979 -- 1980 CFL Illustrated
Joey Walters contributed one of the most astounding performances of the 1979 season, but he didn;t get the credit to which he was entitled. The splendind Saskatchewan receiver averaged 6.7 catches for 128.6 yards for every game he played. Unfortunately, he missed 10 of his team's 16 games with a torn leg-muscle after cathing 5 passes for 113 yards in his first game. On his return from the injusry list he started modestly with 4 catches for 78 yards, followed with 9 for 218 yards, then on Oct 21 at Winnipeg he put on a fantastic show with 14 receptions for 191 yards, a performance topped only once previously in CFL scheduled competition.
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