August 11, 2016
Walker excited to be preparing for playing time
A redshirt season helped Ricky Walker in many ways and now the Tech defensive tackle is ready to show his talents

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – Tim Settle has gotten a lot of attention during the first 10-plus days of Tech’s fall practice, given his large status as a former five-star recruit and his large 325-pound frame at the defensive tackle position.

But Tech fans should remember that another very good player took a redshirt year last fall and he quietly continues to impress.

Ricky Walker played in 11 games as a true freshman in 2014, but sat out last fall because of Tech’s depth at his position. Charley Wiles, the Hokies’ defensive line coach, struggled to find reps for Walker, with Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall, Nigel Williams and Woody Baron on the depth chart at the two tackle spots. So Walker spent the fall practicing with the scout team and watching games from the stands.

“The difficult part wasn’t the practices,” Walker said. “The difficult part was on Saturdays, just watching. For all my life, I’ve been a competitor and I love playing this game, but I couldn’t be out there and that was tough. But everything happens for a reason. It was definitely worth it.”

Not every player who takes a redshirt year comes to home games on Saturdays. Some watch on television. They miss it so much that being in attendance just makes the situation that much tougher.

Not Walker. He went to every home game in support of his teammates. In fact, he did something almost unheard of among those in that position.

“I even went to an away game at Georgia Tech,” he said. “I supported the team all the way. I watched every Saturday.”

These days, most football players do not like to take a redshirt year. Having been the superstars on their high school squads, they expect to come in and do the same things at the collegiate level. In a sense, though, they’re taking a short-sighted view. After all, Michael Vick took a redshirt season – and he went on to enjoy a rather nice career, both at the collegiate and NFL levels.

Walker now can relay the benefits of a redshirt season to the younger players on the roster.

“I would tell them to definitely do it, if it is best for the team,” he said. “I’d definitely recommend it. It gives you time to prepare mentally and physically. You get stronger and faster.

“Everyone comes out of high school and they’re the top guys at their high schools. They want to come in and compete, but college is a different level. The players are faster and stronger. The game is faster. You just need to do what’s best for the team.”

Walker certainly took advantage of last fall. He shadowed Maddy and watched his technique during practices and games. He also watched Maddy’s practice habits and how he prepared for a game.

“I learned a lot about technique and pass rushing, but the most important thing I learned was the importance of studying film,” Walker said. “You need to take the time to study your opponent and watch the blocking combinations of the offensive line. You need to watch footwork and watch what we’re doing as a defense. All those things are important. That’s how Luther helped me the most.”

He also spent last fall concentrating on getting his body in prime condition. He carried that work ethic into winter workouts and spring practice, and this past summer was almost icing on the cake.

Physically, Walker looks great and he says he feels great. He said he weighed 288 pounds as of Wednesday – without a hint of the “baby fat” that he had when he arrived on campus.

“This summer was, by far, the best summer I’ve ever had,” he said. “It was tough mentally and physically. I feel stronger. I lost two percent body fat and gained five pounds of muscle. I was pretty excited about that and the coaches were, too. I feel great out there on the field.”

Walker represents a big part of the future of Tech’s defensive line. Yes, the Hokies possess experience in seniors Ken Ekanem, Baron and Williams. But 10 of the defensive linemen on the roster are freshmen or sophomores.

The success of Tech’s defensive front probably hinges on how many of those 10 develop. If several develop quickly, they’ll be the key to helping the Hokies improve their rush defense (75th nationally last season).

“These young guys are hungry,” Walker said. “I think we’ll bring it when the seniors are tired and we need some fresh legs in the game. Me, Tim, Trevon Hill, House [Houshun Gaines] … guys like that. They’re all going to help us a lot. Last year, we had some seniors who were very good, but I think this year our whole defense is good. We’re all together as one.”

Settle keeps garnering the attention – and justifiably so, given his immense potential. Fans, though, should keep an eye on Walker. No one should sleep on this young man.

Not that he minds, however.

“I don’t care,” he said. “I actually want people to sleep on me. Whenever they see No. 98 out there making plays, they’re going to be surprised. But I’m not. That’s all that matters.”

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