Monson: Ute leader Chaz Walker's credo: 'Long hair, don't care'
Three things about Chaz Walker that hit you like a stick to the head:
First is the number 113. That was his tackles total from 2010, which not only led the Utes and was second in the Mountain West Conference, it also marked the first time since 2007 that any Utah defender had rolled up triple figures.
Second is his stature, which seems embellished a bit in published university propaganda, listing him at 6-foot, 223 pounds. He looks smaller than that by an inch or two and a biscuit or two. Either way, he's a rather diminutive middle linebacker.
Third is the long, dark, flowing Rapunzel hair. Walker, now entering his senior season, hasn't substantially scissored back his locks since he showed up on campus as a walk-on freshman with a buzz cut. He says he's thought about trimming up, but he knows deep down that, in his own words, "I'd miss it too much â¦ I like it."
While other linebackers sport Mohawks or shave menacing messages onto their heads, Walker prefers the glistening Prell Shampoo-model look. Mix in the black beard, and the man in the middle would appear every bit as comfortable in flowing robes and sandals.
"I'll cut my hair one day," he says. "â¦ When I'm done playing."
So it is, then, that Kevin Chaz Walker is Utah football's version of the Biblical Sampson. More than just his strength, though, his entire persona emanates from the shiny, ample cluster on his bean that drapes down past his shoulder pads.
"He's got a bracelet that says: 'Long hair, don't care,'" says fellow linebacker Trevor Reilly. "It just means, 'Bring it on.' That's Chaz."
After a humble start with the Utes, Walker has done most of the bringing. He came to Utah in 2007 as a walk-on safety, but was quickly awarded a scholarship, morphing into a linebacker. It's a transformation he regards as "the best thing that could have happened."
"Not as much about running," he says. "More about hitting."
Walker waited for last season's opportunity to play, and when it arrived, he gave it the Tettsui and the Oi-zuki, which, to those foreign to the terms of karate, would be the hammer fist and the lunge punch.
That's right. Walker isn't just some long-haired, wild-eyed, whack-job 'backer who mindlessly flings his body around. He's a technically disciplined student of football who also happens to have a black belt in the Japanese martial art. His sister, Ricki, is a black belt, too. Growing up in Farmington, he competed as a junior karateka for 10 years and subsequently ascended to the sport's high reaches.
"Karate taught me agility and discipline and a whole different mental outlook," he says. "The footwork and handwork, the hand strikes, helped me in football."
Stored in what became a trophy room at his parents' house are some 40 pieces of hardware from numerous junior karate competitions. Later, as Walker got into other sports, the trophy haul grew. He was all-state in football while playing at Davis High School.
He added to that a second-team all-MWC citation at the end of last year. Walker credits much of his progress to spending time in the film room, studying tendencies of opponents, knowing in advance what they will do.
"I watch at least an hour a day," he says. "And that's helped me do better than what was expected. I still feel like I have something to prove."
Apparently, so do Ute coaches, who at times have had Walker listed as a co-starter at his position, despite the big 113 he hung on the board last time around.
"We have six or seven linebackers here who can play," he says. "The best of them will play, whoever it is. We're all part of the Kongo."
"Yeah, the Kongo is â¦ it's â¦ it's the linebackers," he says. "You've kind of got to be in the Kongo to know what the Kongo is. The Kongo is what we are."
What are you?
"I dunno. Matt [Martinez] came up with the term. One day at practice, he just said, 'Welcome to the Kongo.' And it went from there. Now, we have Kongo T-shirts and everything."
Why Kongo and not Congo?
"I asked Matt the same thing. I don't know if it's off of King Kong or just that we figured the C was already taken, so we went with the K."
Walker already has earned his undergraduate degree in speech communications and is taking sociology classes to remain eligible for his senior season, a season during which fellow Kongo members Reilly and Boo Andersen are looking to Walker for his experience and general leadership.
"He always knows what he's doing out there," says Reilly. "He knows what everyone's doing. He doesn't make many technical mistakes."
Says Andersen: "He's a great motivational leader."
"I've worked hard," Walker says. "I've hoped for the best. I've pushed through adversity."
And he's grown his hair long because â¦ well, he likes it that way.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Gordon Monson Show" weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone.
Chaz Walker file
• Hails from Farmington, played at Davis High
• Moved from safety to linebacker after walking on at the U.
• Holds a black belt in karate, won a state karate title
• Named all-Mountain West Conference second team last year