One of the biggest questions surrounding Virginia Tech football this offseason was how the Hokies would replace offensive talent in Jerod Evans, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, and Sam Rogers. That group of four were big reasons why Virginia Tech won 10 games, took the ACC Coastal Crown, and won the Belk Bowl against Arkansas. They were the glue and stability on offense.
But one of the biggest questions that didn’t get a lot of recognition was how Justin Fuente would replace his senior leadership. Sam Rogers and Ken Ekanem were vocal leaders for the past two seasons and crucial in guiding the team in the transition from Frank Beamer to Fuente.
One person who has stepped up immensely and can be seen as one of the vocal leaders on this 2017 squad: Ricky Walker. He’s been a force to reckon with on the defensive line this year, but Fuente said at a previous press conference that it has been his leadership that has been most noticeable.
“Ricky has seized the opportunity, seemingly to me as if it’s very natural to him. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I know when presented with the challenge of leadership, and taking control, based on the conversation we had right before the last game of last year, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a conversation and seen a person take it to heart the way that Ricky has. Immediately from the first day that we reported back, if you were to watch our very first workout, you would’ve said ‘Ricky Walker’ from the very first day and I think that’s very special,” said Justin Fuente.
The 6’2, 280 pound junior from Hampton, Virginia was a force to reckon with in 757 when he attended high school at Bethel. He was named to many prestigious awards and recognition in his tenure at the school. Walker was one of the top defensive tackles in the nation in 2014 and ultimately chose Virginia Tech.
Defensive line coach Charley Wiles mentioned in a recent press conference how Ricky came in as a freshman and was fifth at his position and hardly played that year. His sophomore season, they made the decision to redshirt him over Woody Baron. The rest has been history the last two seasons as he's made significant contributions on and off the field, especially this season. Wiles also brought up how he feels that Walker is a natural-born leader.
This past week's game, Walker had arguably the best game of his career in a 59-7 win over North Carolina. The redshirt junior returned a fumble for a touchdown, had a career high 1.5 sacks, and tallied 4 tackles. The touchdown was the first in Walker's career at any level of football and the performance earned him ACC Defensive Linemen of the Week honors.
Another distinct honor Walker is receiving for his efforts against the Tar Heels is the 25 jersey, that honors Frank Beamer, for the Duke game. Fuente said he is proud that he'll be wearing the jersey in a tweet sent out Thursday.
As the Hokies prepare for a tough stretch in the second half of the year, the team and coaching staff will be turning to Walker for motivation and leadership.
“His work ethic is unmatched on the team. He loves football, or at least that’s what we all perceive based on how he works. Whether its in the offseason in the weight room or at practice, he goes 100 percent every single day. He sets a good example from that standpoint,” said Fuente.
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