Northwestern moves on without Walker

EVANSTON, Ill. – Bryan Heinz was in his bedroom asleep when a knock on the door delivered the numbing news that would change the lives of everyone involved in football at Northwestern.

Coach Randy Walker had died of a heart attack. A few days earlier Heinz, a senior defensive back, had chatted with his coach, remembering how trim and fit he looked. Then suddenly he was gone.

“He made such a great impact on me that I’ll keep him with me for the rest of my life,” said Heinz, a former walk-on who made the team thanks to Walker’s encouragement.

“He really instilled in me a confidence I really didn’t have. I wasn’t recruited. I owe him more than he could ever imagine.”

So does the entire Northwestern program. The grieving over Walker’s death this summer continues, but football has helped fill the void, especially during the team’s recently concluded training camp in Kenosha, Wis.

Pat Fitzgerald’s assignment as a 31-year-old rookie coach is imposing. Mend his team’s collective pain; get his players prepared for an emotional season opener Aug. 31 at Miami of Ohio, Walker’s alma mater, where there will be a stirring tribute; and try to build on what Walker had already established.

“It’s been a very difficult time for our football team over the course of this summer. Our thoughts have been with Randy’s family every day,” Fitzgerald said yesterday.