Three weeks before Tim Walton, the linebacker from Detroit, was supposed to report for football training camp at Michigan State, Walton found himself in an altercation outside a club in the spring of 1984. He got shot in the shoulder and was not healed in time for camp, losing all of his offers. Tim Walton // Photo Provided
For the Record: Former football player remembers Ball State as 2nd chance
Editor's note: "For the Record" is a weekly series featuring former stand-out Ball State athletes and their lives after college.
Tim Walton never saw his dad cry. But the former Ball State football player witnessed it when he was hit with tragedy.
“There were tears in his eyes when the coaches were calling to find out why I hadn’t showed up to training camp,” Walton said.
Years played: 1985-1988
HOF Class: 2013-2014
Three weeks before the linebacker from Detroit was supposed to report for football training camp at Michigan State, Walton found himself in an altercation outside a club in the spring of 1984.
The man — who Walton said was bigger than him — pulled out a gun and pointed it a Walton's face.
“The next thing I know he pulls the trigger,” Walton said. “Obviously I think that I’m dead because the bullet was coming directly at my face.”
Somehow, the bullet ends up in his shoulder, but failed to heal in time for camp. As the weeks went by the coaches kept asking about Walton.
“It never healed and we had to tell them that I wasn't going to come and probably never play in the Big Ten,” Walton said.
After months of rehabilitation and a “miracle,” as Walton put it, he regained the use of his left shoulder. But the offers were no longer on the table. Scouts were skeptical and assumed he was a bad kid.
“I wasn’t a bad kid, I was just in the wrong situation at the wrong time,” Walton said.
Highly recruited out of high school, he was left without the sport his life centered around. But Walton had a second chance coming one year later.
Rick Minter, a respected linebackers coach from New Mexico State, reached out to Walton. Flying out for a visit, Walton loved the direction Minter and then-assistant coach L.C. Cole were taking the program. Six weeks later in 1985, Minter and Cole are both hired at Ball State. Walton and Minter lost contact for a while, but Minter needed a linebacker — and that linebacker needed a chance.
"I'm watching all the film of my guys returning and I turn to L.C. and say, 'whatever happened to that Walton kid from Detroit?'" Minter said. "He says, 'Oh, well he's still out there, he never got picked up by anybody.'"
Walton visited Ball State before enrolling in the spring trimester. Minter said because Ball State was on a trimester schedule in the 1980s, Walton was able to play spring football.
Unlike many coaches, Minter wasn't afraid to take a chance.
"I don’t necessarily know all the details surrounding the shooting, but after meeting the guy face-to-face he certainly passed all the tests for us," Minter said. "He was charismatic and had a great personality.”
Walton said coming to Ball State was a second chance at life.
"It gave me an opportunity," Walton said. "I was very grateful that these coaches didn’t look at my résumé and say, 'Oh, here's this teen from Detroit who got shot. We don’t want him.'"
While Walton got another opportunity to play Division-I football, his academics were holding him back. He had a 1.8 GPA and his playing time began to dwindle. Walton wanted to know why Minter brought him to Ball State if he wasn't going to play.
"I know that you're the best linebacker that I got in here," Minter said to Walton. "You probably can be a great linebacker and have the opportunity to go to the next level. But I sit here and look at your grades and you want to go back to Detroit. So I'm going to help you do that. I'm going to help you get your ticket punched and go back to the streets of Detroit because you don’t want to be here."
Walton realized Minter was right.
He said it was the most sobering conversation he ever had.
“I can't lie to you and say that — as excited as I was to get the opportunity after getting shot to come to Ball State — that my life had changed," Walton said. "My life really didn’t change until I realized I was on my way back to the streets of Detroit if I didn’t change my ways in the classroom.”
Minter said from then on Walton learned that it wasn't all about what he could do on the field — it was obvious he was good at that.
Walton was a four-year starter for the Cardinals and went on to play in the NFL for three years. He finished his career in the Canadian Football League.
Minter and Walton still keep in touch, and Minter made a surprise appearance at Walton's Ball State Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2013.
A once career-ending tragedy morphed into a new beginning for the kid from Detroit, and Ball State.
"Whatever it was that got him in the wrong place a the wrong time with the unfortunate injury certainly was a blessing for us, and maybe himself in the long run," Minter said.