As a teenager, Ken Walter recalls slamming the door hard on his way outside, angry from a question posed by his mother. "You really think you're going to make it?"
The weather in Ohio was blustery that day, and Walter remembers the damp, heavy snow collecting around his shoes as he trudged through the backyard to practice, football in hand.
His mother's comment was the first of two she would make to serve as a catalyst for Walter's desire to play professional football. She would eventually become one of his biggest supporters.
Walter knew he had a talent for kicking. He could tell by the spectators' reactions whenever he skyrocketed a football across the field, seemingly suspending it in midair. Being a left-footed punter gave him an extra advantage. The ball spins and drifts differently. It threw receivers off.
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He just needed to perfect it.
His nine-year career in the NFL proves he did.
He's now settled into a quieter life in Huntersville, living in the Skybrook development that straddles the Mecklenburg County and Concord line. Walter, 37, puts that same energy into his career as a sales manager and raising his two sons with wife Chante, as he did in his pigskin-gripping past. He is a sales manager for Markham Landscape Products Inc. in Charlotte, which sells brick, stone, soil and mulches to residential, commercial and municipal accounts.
"When my hands are on something, I represent it."
Perseverance, say former teammates at Euclid High School, was always Walter's strong suit.
"The guy was a workhorse. He set a goal and went after it," said Derrick Willis, who played with Walter in the early 1990's. "Now he's got two fat Super Bowl rings."
Drive was necessary in Euclid to be noticed by both the baseball and football scouts who frequently showed up at games. The small working-class town outside Cleveland, with its one bank, one police station, and one motel, has produced handfuls of NFL and MLB players.
"This is the birthplace of football," said Willis. "It's a very serious thing." The Football Hall of Fame is an hour away.
Sometimes the pressure was torturous.
Pitcher Ed Zivnoska remembers the eyes of a scout fix on him during a high school baseball game. Walter, a catcher on the team, eased his tension by bringing a handful of worms he had dug from behind the plate. "It took my mind off everything," said Zivnoska.
Walter felt that pressure later when he held the football during the last seconds of two Super Bowls. On the Patriots, Ken served as the holder for placekicker Adam Vinatieri. He held for both of Vinatieri's Super Bowl winning kicks in Super Bowl XXXVI and Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"I've never hyperventilated, except two times." His lungs accepted deep breaths only when he heard Queen's "We are the Champions" blast and saw the media rush the field.
His journey to the Super Bowl was not typical. While lettering three years at Kent State University, his job as a ball boy for the Cleveland Browns, setting up the field, shagging the ball, and giving the players practice at those left-handed kicks, is what led to his golden opportunity. A punter for the Browns made some calls and got him the opportunity to kick in front of scouts at a camp in Reno, Nev.
On his way home from the camp, Walter had 24 hours, the length of the drive from Reno to Euclid, to ruminate about his performance. In the days before cell phones, he recounts his mom rushing him, a pile of messages from NFL coaches in her hand, as he pulled in the driveway.
"But I really like this guy Bill Polian. He called several times," he remembers her saying.
Kenneth Matthew Walter Jr. went on to sign with Polian, general manager for the Carolina Panthers. After four years with the Panthers, he also wore New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawk jerseys before retiring, five surgeries later, in 2006.