Familiarity brought Derel Walker back to Edmonton

It just made sense for Derel Walker to put pen to paper and sign a contract with the Edmonton Football Team last week.

It feels familiar to him, like reconnecting with a long-lost friend or a hearing a song you haven’t listened to in ages.

The receiver has been in Edmonton before. Twice, actually. His first year was in 2015, where he went on to win the league’s Most Outstanding Rookie and the Grey Cup. He then had one more season in green and gold before heading down south with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 29-year-old re-joined Edmonton half way through the 2017 campaign, after he was cut by Tampa Bay, where he remained through 2018.

After all of that history, it just made sense to head back to Alberta for his sixth CFL season.

“I’m very familiar with the city and a lot of guys that are still in the organization,” Walker told TSN1260’s Dave Jamieson last week after signing his new deal. “When I was there, I spent a lot of time there, as you know, within my career. The city grew on me and it was just like a second home to me. I’m just so familiar with how the city operates, especially the organization.”

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Derel Walker spent one season in Toronto before making his way back to Edmonton for the 2021 campaign (Arthur Ward/CFL.ca)

His skillset was undeniable despite only playing one full season in Edmonton (2016). He suited up in just 12 games in his rookie season, hauling in 1,110 yards and six majors. His best season of his career, and only one where he hit the field for all 18 games, was in 2016 where he caught 1,589 yards, second in the league only behind his teammate Adarius Bowman (1,761).

He garnered NFL interested in 2017 and elected to try his hand down south where he says he learned a lot about the game of football from his time in Tampa Bay. He then returned to Edmonton, playing in eight games and hauling in 634 yards and two major scores that season. Injury shortened his 2018 campaign after suffering a knee injury in September that kept him out for the rest of the year. Still, in just 11 games, he caught 875 yards and eight touchdowns.

That’s why when he was set to become a free agent ahead of the 2019 season, he was one of CFL.ca’s top players with an expiring contract.

He elected to sign with the Toronto Argonauts and went on to play in 12 games, collecting 1,040 yards and six touchdowns while on his way to becoming an East Division All-Star.

It was a successful season personally for the six-foot-two, 187-pounder, but it was a different story for his team. The Argos struggled in 2019, falling close to the bottom of the standings with a 4-14 record. Only the Ottawa REDBLACKS were worse, sitting 3-15.

“It was a learning experience,” Walker said of his time in Toronto. “I was able to grow in ways I couldn’t imagine. As far as the season, obviously it didn’t go the way I had expected it to. On the field and our record, as the league saw. But as far as the group of guys and the guys that I was around on a daily basis, I was around a group of guys that really had a passion for the game. None of us really enjoyed losing and we couldn’t really figure out what was the problem, what was the cause for that.

“It was frustrating for a lot of is throughout the season. When you’re putting your all in week and week out, to go get a loss. It was a frustrating time for a lot of us but it’s adversity you have to overcome and keep moving forward.”

And moving forward he has, looking to the future and signing with Edmonton to begin his third stint with the club.

Walker was one of the league’s most sought-after free agents almost a year ago but failed to come to terms with any teams ahead of the eventual pandemic-cancelled season.

He took the time he had off from football, not unlike the rest of us did, to work on himself. Of course he was staying in shape to make sure he was football-ready when teams did come knocking on his door, but he also wanted to make time for learning.

“(The pandemic) was frustrating for everyone but everyone had a lot of time to themselves to figure out what they wanted to do and things like that. figure out what really meant the most to them in their life,” said Walker, who also took the extended off-season to spend more time with his family. “For me, what I did the majority of the time, I worked out and figured out ways to invest money and things like that. Just learning investments and things along those lines and where I should put my money.”

Although most things will feel familiar when Walker returns to Commonwealth to practice with his teammates, there’s one thing that won’t, and that’s the man who’s throwing him passes.

In both stints that Walker was in Edmonton, it was Mike Reilly who was behind centre. But with Reilly signing with the Lions ahead of the 2019 season, the green and gold signed Trevor Harris as their new quarteback. The pivot had an excellent first year with his new team, despite missing a few games with an arm injury, and will likely be thrilled to have Walker at his disposal when the new season finally begins.

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