University honors Todd Walker | VailDaily.com

University honors Todd Walker

Al Pike
Foster's Daily Democrat

John Huff/Staff photographer

DURHAM, N.H. – What would Todd do?

That’s what Jason Roach was asking himself early Saturday afternoon as he took the field with the rest of the University of New Hampshire football team for the annual Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage.

“I’m just going to go out there and try to play like he would,” said the senior defensive back, “and just enjoy it and have fun because that’s what he would do.”

Todd Walker is the former Wildcat receiver and Edwards native who sacrificed his life to save another. He was shot and killed in Boulder on March 18 during a robbery attempt.

Roach was the first recipient of the Todd Walker Teammate Award and he wore Walker’s No. 80 during Saturday’s game.

“This means a lot to me because he was one of my friends and a teammate,” Roach said. “I loved him more than anything. This is a tough and emotional day for me.”

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A season for Todd

According to coach Sean McDonnell, the award will likely be presented annually at the team banquet.

“I think that struck a chord in most guys’ hearts when they gave out that award because everybody knows how great Jason is and everybody knows how great Todd was,” said senior wideout Chris Chandler. “(We were) fighting back tears at first.”

UNH also honored Walker’s memory by planting a radiant swamp maple tree on the front lawn of the field house. The Wildcats chose red maple to match Todd’s red hair. The tree should reach peak color in the fall during football season.

“I just want to go out there and dedicate this day to Todd,” Roach said. “I’m at a loss for words right now. I can’t wait to see the tree blossom in the fall and I can’t wait to dedicate the season to him.”

Engraved on the stone in front of the tree that stands along the Walk of Memory are the letters W.W.T.D. for “What would Todd do?”

“It gives it continuity,” said Mark Walker, Todd’s father. “They have it on the plaque. What would Todd do? That’s on his bracelet. It comes from his friends. The most beautiful thing about him was the breadth of the kids he hung with.”

The Walk of Memory was established in 2002 to “remember student-athletes who’ve left us too soon,” said UNH athletic director Marty Scarano.

“It’s a happy moment, if you can find that,” Mark Walker said. “To see this many kids that were teammates and so close to Todd that he had an impact on them and they had an impact on him, that part is gratifying.”

The hardest worker

With Roach a defensive back and Todd Walker a receiver, they would often butt heads in practice.

“I was the last person to compete against Todd, in something we call ‘mat drills,'” Roach said. “He beat me 12-1, and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life because he was one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever met.”

The Wildcats honored Todd Walker all spring. Each day a different player would wear his No. 80 during practice.

“I think that’s such a good tradition,” said quarterback and co-captain Kevin Decker. “That should be carried on for a long time because it will keep his spirit alive. The hardest worker gets it, which is perfect because Todd was maybe the hardest worker on the team. Even when he didn’t get invited back to camp, he came back after that in the fall and just worked his butt off and I think it’s great for this team to have that jersey handed out.”

Died a hero

Saturday’s ceremony preceded the scrimmage that marked the end of spring practice.

“I think it definitely helps,” said Mark Walker. “It sounds strange but it’s better for us to be around the young people that hung out with him. We find a lot of peace in that.”

“It’s tough to even talk about it,” said wide receiver Mickey Mangieri. “He was a good friend, a good person and a good teammate. It’s a loss. We’ve got to honor him in how hard we play this year. That’s all we can do.”

Todd’s parents, Mark and Pam, attended Saturday’s ceremony along with his sister and grandparents.

“The emotions run pretty high,” said Mark Walker. “It was hard coming back on campus. It was hard seeing the football facility. (We’re) appreciative for what everybody’s done for Todd. (It’s) also kind of a sobering reminder of the finality of things, and that’s difficult.”

The Walkers, who attended similar ceremonies in Todd’s hometown of Edwards and Chicago, can take some solace in the fact that Todd died a hero.

“I think he just reacted,” Mark Walker said. “Maybe because he was that right kind of kid he had that right type of reaction. There’s lots of ways for your kid to leave this place. I don’t know of but a couple that are maybe more honorable than what he did.”

Walker, known for his magnetic personality, would have turned 21 last Sunday.

“He’s been an inspiration since his courageous act,” Mangieri said. “We’re going to honor him by celebrating his life. That’s what we want to do, and that’s what we will do.”