Kenneth Walker III remembers the first time he saw the gangly freshman receiver who would quickly become one of his best friends.
Walker, then a sophomore at Arlington High School outside of Memphis, Tennessee, first noticed Devin Chandler's boundless energy.
"He was always doing his own thing, just being energetic," Walker said. "I'm like, 'Bro, who is this kid that's always playing around?'… He was always energetic, always play fighting with somebody."
Walker and Chandler quickly bonded over everything from football to anime, over Walker helping Chandler learn to drive, and over all the typical goofy stuff that bring teenagers together. They both also quickly recognized the uncommon football talent that the other possessed. As they developed into Division I recruits, Walker and Chandler started comparing themselves to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, best friends who achieve their NFL goals together. Walker saved Chandler in his phone not as Devin or "Little Dev," as he affectionately called him, but as "Future NFL Star."
Now in 2022, Walker is living the NFL dream he and Chandler shared, starting at running back for the Seahawks and emerging as one of the league's most dynamic rookie playmakers, but he is now doing so with a heavy heart following last month's shooting at the University of Virginia that killed three members of the football team, Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D'Sean Perry.
On Sunday as the Seahawks and the rest of the NFL take part in the My Cause My Cleats initiative, Walker will have a picture of Chandler on one of his cleats along with Chandler's No. 15 and the words "Long Live Devin Chandler." Walker is one of two Seahawks players who will honor victims of the Virginia shooting along with rookie safety Joey Blount, who was teammates with all three before joining the NFL this year.
"He's like my little brother," Walker said of Chandler. "We stayed together all the time. He was the person I used to always hang out with after practice or whatever just for anything.
"He was just super cool. I remember I used to have his name saved in my phone as 'Future NFL Star.' We used to always talk about going to the league together, and we always looked up to Odell and Jarvis Landry because they were best friends and we wanted to be like that. And we'd always compete in everything—in a good way though, not in a bad way. We used compete in everything. I used to be like, 'Oh, bro, I bet my GPA's going to be higher than yours by the end of the semester,' all of that. And that was just my little brother. He didn't know how to drive at one point, and I let him drive my car, just small stuff like that. I love his family. His family's so welcoming. Yeah, that's just my dog."
Beyond the play-fighting and anime and friendly competition over everything, Walker and Chandler were also there for each other in more serious moments. When Walker was considering the transfer that took him from Wake Forest to Michigan State, he called Chandler. When Chandler was considering a simar decision, he reached out to Walker before transferring to Virginia. When Chandler's father, Quentin, battled cancer and eventually passed away in 2018, Walker was there for him. When Walker was diagnosed with blood clots and hospitalized for multiple days as a junior in high school, Chandler was there for him.
"We just talk about life," Walker said. "Stuff I went through, I'd tell him about it, and stuff he went through, he'll tell me about it. And it was just always good to have Dev whenever I wanted to talk to somebody. Especially when I was going to transfer from Wake Forest, that's the person I called, I used to talk to him about it. It was just cool to have him because he was always so positive and energetic. No matter what he was going through in life, he was always there to help somebody else.
"Dev went through a lot. His pops had cancer, and when we were both at the hospital, I believe it was Dev's junior year, his pops ended up passing away. Dev ended up playing that game that week and he still fought through and everything, because he knew his pops wanted him to do. Dev was just inspirational to everybody around him. If you talk to somebody that knows Dev, you'll understand, because bro's just super funny and always energetic. It's just great to have somebody like him around."
The last time Walker got to talk to Chandler was in October when Chandler FaceTimed to wish Walker a happy birthday. Less than a month later, Walker received the unimaginable news that his friend, his little brother, was gone.
Fighting back the tears that came throughout a 20-minute interview, Walker said, "I just want to say cherish the people that you love, because you never know when it's the last time you'll see them."
"Don't take anything for granted because it all can get thrown away at any time."
One of the many times Chandler was there for Walker came during the spring of Walker's junior season when the running back unexpectedly found himself hospitalized with blood clots in lungs. That brief scare, and his experience at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, is why Walker's other cleat on Sunday will represent that hospital, and by extension the children there and at other Children's Hospitals who are fighting their own battles.
"In high school I had blood clots in both my lungs, so I had to stay in the hospital I believe four nights," he said. "And as I was in the hospital it was a moment where I was like, don't take anything for granted because it all can get thrown away at any time. Also, what really inspired me is the kids there battling cancer and illness. Every time I would see them in the hallway or anywhere, they were always so positive and smiling, and that's so inspirational to see people like those kids going through so much, but always have a positive attitude and it's inspiring."
Walker's health scare happened when, during his junior, he powered through a couple of days of spring practices while feeling pain in his chest. Eventually, he woke up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe and realized something was seriously wrong.
"I woke up and I couldn't breathe for real," he said. "I was struggling to breathe."
Walker called for his mom, and they then went to the emergency room where x-rays discovered the blood clots. The doctors at St. Francis hospital informed Walker that, had he kept playing through the pain, a hit to the wrong place could have killed him. The doctor also delivered what for an aspiring young athlete was about the worst news possible.
"He told me that I'd never play football again," Walker said. "I'm like, 'Dang, that's crazy.' I went back home, they put me on medication, but I was still coughing up blood the next day. And so that's how I ended up at Le Bonheur."
At Le Bonheur, doctors gave Walker multiple shots a day in his abdomen, teaching him how to administer the shots himself, and after three months of shots, Walker was able to return to football.
"Every day I'd give myself a shot," he said. "I go to my friend's house and chill, and then I'll be like, 'Hey, I got to go. I've got to go give myself a shot.' A lot of my friends knew about it, and they were supportive and everything."
And among those offering consistent support was a sophomore receiver named Devin Chandler, a fun-loving kid who liked to compete with Walker, who got his friend into anime, who learned to drive in Walker's car, a teammate who brought an endless supply of energy to practice, a friend and a brother, whose memory Walker will carry with him on the field Sunday and for the rest of his NFL career.
Look for Walker's interview and more on My Cause My Cleats in Episode 8 of The Sound, which will debut next week.
Seahawks players worked with talented artists to bring a vision to life for the cleats they'll wear on Sunday, December 4 vs. the Rams as part of the NFL's 'My Cause My Cleats' program. Learn more.