BLACKSBURG – The Ricky Walker shaped hole on Virginia Tech’s defensive line next season isn’t going to be easy to fill.
Walker is part of a small group of seniors set to play in what could be their final game on Friday against Virginia at Lane Stadium.
The fifth-year senior arrived in Blacksburg as 3-star prospect out of Bethel High School (Hampton, Virginia) as part of Virginia Tech’s 2014 signing class. He got on the field as a true freshman, but Walker redshirted the following season when the NCAA granted defensive lineman Luther Maddy an extra year of eligibility.
Virginia Tech’s coaching staff didn’t want Walker wasting a year of eligibility, a decision he now calls a “blessing.”
“If I didn’t redshirt, I wouldn’t be here right now,” Walker said. “....I don’t think guys should look at it [redshirting] as a bad thing. It’s a good thing to get stronger, to get better, to get faster, stronger, to learn the playbook more. I think that extra year helped me a lot.”
Walker’s career took off after that. The senior heads into Friday’s game with 117 career tackles (49 solo) with 27.5 for a loss and seven sacks. He was the defense’s lunch pail holder this year and a team co-captain. The Hokies will miss Walker’s production, they will miss his consistency, but they will miss his presence on campus more than anything else.
Virginia Tech coaches and players speak about Walker with a special reverence reserved for a special few.
“That was a goal of mine to leave here as a guy who’s going to be remembered,” Walker said. “...Just as a person, a leader, and even as a player, just how I came to work and how I played hard, all the things that the coaches saw in me when I was getting recruited has definitely been shown in these last two or three years. And I’m glad the guys can look up to me like that.”
As Walker’s career comes to a close, here’s a look at what coaches and players have said about the defensive tackle this season.
Bryce Watts, Virginia Tech defensive back
“He’s the face of VT.”
Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech coach
“Ricky is the kind of guy that does what whatever you ask him to do. He’s going to do whatever you ask as hard as he can. I felt like for several years now he’s been an adult. He’s a grown up, makes grown up decisions and has live a grown up life. Having those guys around is comforting. I’m really proud of how he’s handled his career.”
Robert Porcher, Virginia Tech defensive tackle
“Just his passion for the game. He uses his hands quickness. I just see that he cares a lot about it. It teaches me stuff also, moves to use. Just different stuff. He’s a good teacher.”
Xavier Burke, Virginia Tech defensive tackle
“Ricky, he’s a great role model. You watch him every day on film, and he’s like one of the most consistent guys that we have in the room. He always has the right footwork. He uses his hands very well. Ricky is a very good player to try to model your game after.”
David Cutcliffe, Duke coach
“He's obviously -- he's really strong. He's big. Not necessarily tall. But you know he's just a big upper-bodied guy that has extreme quickness. He has great hands. So he's a penetrator. He's what I call a disrupter. Anybody that can penetrate your line of scrimmage as much as he's done against us, he certainly has given us many problems. I think there's no question he's an all-conference performer and I voted him that way every year.”
Larry Fedora, North Carolina coach
“Ricky is -- No. 8 is everywhere. If he's not wearing 25, it's 8, and he works all over the field, works extremely hard, plays hard. All their guys do. They always do. But Ricky is always going to be all over the place because he plays so hard.”
Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh coach
“Ricky Walker on defense is a game changer at D-tackle.”
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator
“I’m disappointed for Ricky that the supporting cast hasn’t been what it was the previous couple years, but he’s been a tremendous, tremendous football player….Just plays square, great with his hands, great technique and fundamentals, relentless play after play after play….I hope that he gets the recognition that he deserves because I think he’s really one of the best defensive tackles in our league and in the country, and he’s played that way in my mind. I’m disappointed for him not having that supporting cast, but at the same time, he’s done what he’s needed to do and I really appreciate what he’s all about. In my opinion he’s a stud. He’s a warrior. He’s an elite football player. Elite young man all the way around just how he goes about everything he does.”