JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former student who's made it big received a warm welcome back at his former Jacksonville schools Tuesday.
Students at Rufus E. Payne Elementary School in Northwest Jacksonville were treated to a visit by DeMarcus Walker.
The former Sandalwood High School and Florida State Seminole football player was selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 2017 NFL draft. But he hasn't forgotten where he came from.
Walker told News4Jax that he figured the kids would be excited to see him, but he had no idea just how big their reactions would be. It was a happy homecoming they left many in tears, and Walker was happy to be back.
"I believe in y'all," he told the students.
Just 10 years ago, the Broncos defensive end was in their shoes.
"Trust me, I went through the same struggles that some of y'all are going through -- wearing the same pair of shoes the whole year," Walker said.
The 22-year-old now has a national championship from FSU and a multimillion dollar deal to pay for the Broncos.
"People, they count us out just because of the neighborhood we live in, the houses we live in, the school that we went to. And that doesn't mean anything. It's about what you do with your opportunity," Walker said.
His message struck home for so many of the students, not to mention himself. Walker said he couldn't have done it without his teachers, many of whom were there to surprise him.
On the field, Walker is a star. But for the children at Rufus E. Payne Elementary, he's a real-life super hero.
"The kids were emotional. You were emotional. Everybody was emotion," News4Jax told Walker.
He said, "That's a good thing, you know? It's tears of joy just showing that my hard work really offs and the influence that I put on these kids. and I'm not done. I'm not done."
Walker also visited Sandalwood High School Tuesday morning. He told News4Jax that no matter how big and famous he gets, he'll never be too big to come back to his roots and encourage others to follow their dreams.