⚾️ Limited tickets for the Coral Gables Regional are available! Buy Tickets Now »

Close Topbar
Student-Athlete Alumni Spotlight: Walt Chwalik

Student-Athlete Alumni Spotlight: Walt Chwalik

Aug. 5, 2003

Dress for Success – visit Hurricane Headquarters

Student-Athlete Alumni Spotlight: Walt Chwalik
Class of 1952
Coach Dunn Said, “You’re Staying”

By Tracy Gale

Coral Gables, Fla. (www.hurricanesports.com) — When he was growing up in Campbell, Ohio, Walt Chwalik thought he would play college football at either Indiana University or Ohio State. Like many boys growing up in the 1940s, Walt played sports year-round, earning varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track. And also like many boys growing up in Ohio, he worked Saturdays and Sundays at the local open-hearth steel mill.

“That was our version of ‘off-season’ weight training,” laughs Walt. “We didn’t have any need for workouts to keep in shape. We worked in the steel mills on weekends and during the summer. I started when I was 16. I worked weekends from 7am to 3pm. If there weren’t enough men for the next shift then I’d work a double-shift. That’ll get you big and keep you in shape! Who needs to lift weights when this is your part-time job?”

During his senior year Walt received a letter from football Coach Andy Gustafson, inviting him to the University of Miami for ‘a screening.’ A train ticket to Miami accompanied the letter, and Walt came down in August of 1948. The train had some 200 young men from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York on board, from all of the traditional football recruiting hotbeds. The train also made stops in South Carolina and Georgia, picking up more young men who received the same ‘screening invitation’ from Coach Gustafson.

“We get off at the train station and there are buses to take us directly to the athletic field house,” remembers Walt. “The same day we got off that train we were scrimmaging. We scrimmaged three times a day, morning, noon and again at night. If they liked you in scrimmage then you stayed around for another day of August practice. If they didn’t like you then they took you back over to the train station.”

On the train down Walt sat next to Hal Allen, who would not only star on the ‘Canes defensive line but end up coaching future Hurricane and NFL stars like Lester Williams and Jerome Brown. Long before his induction into the UM Hall of Fame, Hal Allen was just another young man headed south for his ‘screening.’

“Hal got on the train in Georgia and we sat together for the rest of the trip,” Walt remembers. “With his deep drawl I couldn’t understand a word he said. Not a one! But he seemed like a nice guy.” Their friendship continues to this day.

After a week of grueling ‘three-a-days’, Walt was offered a four-year scholarship. Coach Gustafson told him in very colorful language that he was one of the meanest players on the field. However, Walt was scheduled to be an usher in his best friend’s wedding back in Ohio, and decided to go home. He told defensive coach Eddie Dunn that he wanted to get his clothes packed and get a ride over to the train station.

“Coach Dunn said, ‘You can make two phone calls. First, call your mom and tell her to send you down some more clothes. Then, call your friend and tell him to find another usher. You’re staying.’

So I made my two phone calls and I stayed. That’s when my brother got all of my winter clothes.”

The fall practices continued, and Walt and the rest of Miami’s freshmen squad found themselves scrimmaging against war veterans who were five to ten years older than they were. They also scrimmaged against Miami High School, a national powerhouse high school program at that time.

“In the summer and fall of 1948 we scrimmaged in practice against these older guys, war veterans mostly. They had a bone to pick with us: we were the first group of players that [first-year coach] Gustafson brought in. The older guys were brought in when Jack Harding was the coach. Those were some tough practice scrimmages.”

Freshmen couldn’t play on the varsity in those days, but then Walt started at defensive end for three years. He remembers Coach Gustafson as being a very tough man, and years later the Coach had similar memories of him.

“I went to visit him when he was dying, he was over at Doctor’s Hospital,” says the soft-spoken Walt. “I walk in and he tells me what a mean player I was, that I was an animal. Well I was! I didn’t care how much bigger anybody else was or if we were playing the #1 ranked team. When I put my uniform on I became a different person. I was as nice as can be otherwise, but playing football was another matter.”

In 1948 Walt and his freshmen teammates were the first to live in the new campus dormitory. They moved in, eight players to a dorm, in a building on Segovia Avenue and University Drive, where the Coral Gables Public Library now stands.

“It was real nice, all clean and new. Trouble was, a hurricane hit and the design of the windows wasn’t right. The pins holding the windows were on the outside, so when the high winds came all of the windows blew in and glass shattered everywhere! It was just a mess.”

The Miami Hurricanes flew to all of their away games and dressed like a team ready to leave an impression-and some marks-on the opposition. The players may have been wearing custom blazers on team flights but it didn’t hide the fact that they were rough and ready Hurricanes.

“Of course this was before all of the television coverage for college football. You basically had a little advance knowledge of the squad you were about to play–you’d see a depth chart for the next team. I was 6′ and I played at 220 pounds. But our publicity department would list me at 180 pounds. [Tackle] Al Carapella would be listed at 220 pounds and his playing weight was a minimum 260. When we’d get on the field and I’d hit some halfback, the guy would struggle to get up and say, ‘No way you’re 180 pounds.’

1950 was a heady time for Miami football. Coach Gustafson was a successful coach before coming to UM, and he was hell-bent on making the ‘Canes a program the big schools would fear. During Walt’s playing days Miami beat Florida four straight years, and also notched victories against the University of Georgia, Clemson, Pitt, Nebraska and Florida State.

But the biggest win during this time was of Purdue in Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue had just defeated Notre Dame and was ranked #1 in the country, and no one gave the ‘Canes a chance to win. No one except the ‘Canes. Miami went and beat the top ranked team in the country for the first time. The final score was 20-14, with Walt’s deflection of a Purdue pass into tackle Joe Lyden’s hands the difference in the score.

When the Hurricanes returned to Miami the next day there were over 100,000 fans waiting at the airport and then at Bayfront Park to celebrate the victory with them. The Hurricanes went on to finish the regular season undefeated for the first time.

In addition to Hal Allen and Al Carapella, Walt also became great friends with teammates like Ray Arcangeletti from Syracuse and Mike Vacchio of South River, New Jersey.

“You come down together and you just bond,” he said. “Through the heat of all of those August scrimmages, your teammates become your close friends. Friends for life.”

Walt made another lifelong friend at UM: his wife, Julia. They met in a religious studies class. In 1954 Walt and Julia got married in Columbia, South Carolina, where he was stationed while serving in the army.

“I had about a year left of service time, and Julia was up in South Carolina, taking additional classes. We were married while I was at Fort Jackson. We discussed where we’d go when I got out of the army, because I had tryout offers from the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. At that time, the NFL wasn’t such a big deal, especially financially. The biggest stars in the league, like Doak Walker and Otto Graham, would earn salaries of maybe $20,000 a season. Linemen like myself would be lucky to earn $9,000 a season. So I decided not to go to these tryout camps. Instead Julia and I accepted teaching positions at Key West High School.”

Walt taught science at Key West High and also coached football with former teammate Hal Allen. One student in his science class is particularly famous to University of Miami football fans: George Mira, the first star QB in a long line of stellar ‘Canes quarterbacks.After a couple of years in Key West, Walt and Julia moved back to Miami and settled in the Pinecrest area.

Walt taught at Miami Palmetto Senior High School for many years and he and Julia raised four children together. The Chwalik kids were terrific high school athletes, with son Jay playing baseball for Auburn University. Walt and Julia are proud that all four children earned master’s degrees.

“My wife taught English and was always correcting their speech and checking their homework. They had a really good foundation at home.”

Now retired, Walt and his family enjoy spending as much time as possible at their ranch in Brooksville, Florida. He bought the ranch in 1972 as a place that would be easy to get to for school holiday weekends. The ranch has mature oak trees and horses, plus 30 Black Angus cattle.

“I love to be on my tractor, bush-hogging and cutting. I love the smell of manure! We’ve had thirty years of family life on that ranch. We built a house and also a bunk-house so our kids could bring a lot of friends up there when they were growing up. We have a couple of ponds for fishing, and there was always stuff for them to do. We live out in the woods at the end of a dirt road.”

Son Jay lives in Juno Beach Florida, and visits Miami with his two sons. They are baseball players like their father, and Walt enjoys going to Hurricane baseball games with his grandsons when they are in town. He and his wife have season tickets to Hurricane football games, and Walt looks forward to coming out to watch the current ‘Canes in those hot August practices.

“I enjoy watching fall ball practices. They are so organized. I love watching all of the drills. It’s very impressive. I remember our August practices as killers: defensive ends had to run 30 20-yard sprints, 30 30-yard sprints and 30 40-yard sprints after practice. If we could make it back to the locker room by crawling over there, then we were happy. We couldn’t have any water during practice back then! Now you have this structured practice and rest, and players can stay hydrated. But you know, games are won in those practices. If you can get through the August running drills after practice then nothing during a game will really tire you. I was never tired after a game because we were so well conditioned. The pre-season practices were killers physically, not the actual games.”

“I had some big moments on the field and some great thrills playing for Miami. We played big games at Florida, Pitt and a #1 ranked Purdue team. But nothing compares to playing a home game at the Orange Bowl. Nothing! No matter which team we were playing, the Orange Bowl was just the greatest. Going out on the field you got chills. Back then the Bowl was always full, no matter the opponent. If you wanted a good mid-field season ticket for Hurricane home games you had to practically wait for someone else to pass away, it was always a hot ticket.”

After going to school here and teaching school for almost forty years, Walt and Julia are still proud to call Miami home. Even with their children grown and their ranch upstate beckoning them, their ties to UM and their adopted hometown are very strong.

“I feel very fortunate to have played football and gone to school in Miami. My wife had already gone to college before coming down here, but we got our education degrees together and decided to return here to work. That was over forty years ago! We could have decided to raise our family somewhere else, but we chose to stay here because we love Miami so much.”

Looking back over his career at UM, Walt is very happy; both for the choices he made and for the choice Coach Dunn made for him that hot day in 1948.