HOUSTON — Austin Walter took a circuitous path home to Houston, making professional football stops with the 49ers, Giants, XFL’s Dallas Renegades, 49ers again and finally the Jets before his first big moment on Sunday.
He scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter to jump-start what became a 21-14 victory over the Texans and thrill a large contingent of Austin Walter fans at NRG Stadium.
They included his mother, Dian, stepfather, grandparents and even stadium workers who knew him from his days at Crosby High School near Houston and then at Rice University here.
But as much as any of them, Walter’s thoughts were with his father, Tony, who died in 2017 and whom Walter imagined bragging to his friends if he had been able to be there in the flesh.
"Being here my whole life, it meant a lot for this to be the place to get my first career touchdown," he said. "I know my Dad is in heaven smiling down on me. So there are a lot of emotions, but they’re bittersweet emotions."
Walter finished with nine carries for 38 yards, playing a key role in a running game that produced 157 yards in the absence of the injured Michael Carter, whose style coach Robert Saleh compared to Walter’s.
Saleh called Walter a "fireplug, a sparkplug."
Perhaps, but entering Sunday the undrafted Walter had appeared in only five regular-season NFL games – one for the Giants in 2019 and four for the 49ers in 2020 – and had a career total of one carry for 3 yards.
He was with the Jets in training camp, during which he was hurt. He eventually was released in late August, signed to the practice squad in early October then elevated to the active roster on Saturday.
Walter said he had been around long enough to know that one must be prepared at all times.
"When you get your opportunity, you have to be ready to do everything you can to make it last," he said. "I want to stay up here, stay at the big dance."
Walter said that when he saw the block from a guard that he needed to spring him for his scoring run, "I wasn’t going to be denied. That was going to be my first touchdown."
He said his mother had told him on Saturday that "she could feel that I was going to score today. Mother’s intuition. Mother always knows best."
It was his mother, he said, who first got him started in football when he was 3.
As for his father, Walter said, "I know that he had the best seat in the house. I know that he would just be so proud . . . I know he’s in heaven looking down, like, hey, my hard work paid off."