COLUMBUS, Ohio, (WVLT) - As the Tennessee Vols look ahead to a potential run in the NCAA basketball tournament, they find their strength in the walk.
"When I first met with Coach Barnes he said if I was going to be a part of the program I would need to be a part of everything we do every day," said U.T. Fellowship of Christian Athletes Chaplain Chris Walker. "I took that very seriously. An opportunity and an invitation to love these guys."
Walker, who goes by C.Walk, works with all student-athletes, but mostly the football and men's basketball teams.
"I've seen different levels of 'I love the Lord' and being around Coach Barnes has shown me that he's the real deal," said Walker. "Just being able to see the character of the guys he's recruited here where their faith is important to them and so my job is to nourish that and continue fan the flame in them."
Walker attends every practice and leads chapel before every basketball game. His goal is to build relationships with players who want to explore and grow in their faith.
"He's changed our lives. he's impacted us in many ways. Not just through Christ, but learning and experience," said Vol junior power forward Grant Williams.
"It's great to relate to someone who has been through it, younger. An athlete, someone who's been through it, the attention, the different things we go through every day. He helps us relate our life to the word," added forward Admiral Schofield.
Walker has been the first to admit that wasn't always the case. The former Vol defensive end who graduated in 2010 said his own story is something from which current student-athletes can learn.
"I understood what it was like to be a young African-American male without a father. And trying to figure out who you are and having sports define who you are. And who you're dating define who you are and how much success you're having define who you are and that's what I did when I was in college," admitted Walker. "I'm trying to help them understand their identity. Their identity is not in basketball. Basketball is what they do it's not who they are."
Walker was there when two players, Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bowden were baptized last fall.
"The reason I loved it is because their teammates showed up, they wanted to be there for their team, Coach Barnes walked in the room, being able to celebrate that moment together was special," said Walker.
Walker knows the process is a journey. Just like basketball, the season is long and sometimes doesn't end with a win. But, when the buzzer sounds, he wants players to walk away with a win that doesn't show up on the scoreboards.
"He means so much. he's a great leader. He's a great man of God. Everyone just admires him so strongly. He's a great part of everyone's lives," said guard Jordan Bone. "If we had more people in this world like him, the world would be a much better place. I can't stress enough how blessed I am to have him in my life."