In the final days of his recruitment, Anthony Walker received the offer he had been looking for his entire life. Northwestern wasn’t that program – the Wildcats offered months before he eventually settled on a school. It was Miami, the late-90s-early-aughts beast Walker grew up watching compete for national championships, churn out small armies of NFL draft picks and cultivate an aura of invincibility over its Big East peers
The Hurricanes were everything Walker wanted for a very long time…until Northwestern showed up and changed his mindset.
“I had to put away the fact that it was my home team, the school I always wanted to attend,” Walker said of turning down a scholarship offer from Miami. “I looked at the fact that Northwestern was the best opportunity for me academically and football-wise.”
Overtures from other Florida schools continued well after Walker made his commitment in July. In fact, UCF, who initially attempted to recruit Walker as a safety, changed course and tried to entice him with the idea of a switch to outside linebacker. Walker wasn’t interested.
His schematic fit with the Wildcats is one of the main reasons Walker was so excited to sign on with Northwestern. Coach Pat Fitzgerald has emphasized recruiting quick and agile playmakers for his linebacking corps – guys like Chi-Chi Ariguzo, Drew Smith, Joseph Jones, Eric Wilson, Jaylen Prater and Damien Proby, to name a few. Walker’s size (6’1.5’’, 220 pounds) and speed (4.48 40-yd dash) meet that physical profile, and his play on the field typifies exactly what Fitzgerald is looking for in his former position: speed and sideline-to-sideline range and instinctual playmaking
“They told me they like athletic linebackers,” he said. “I felt like that fit me perfectly.”
There’s this thing about speed in the south, in SEC country. The league has practically branded its own level of speed with a certain arrogance that – much as all non-SEC hawks may wail and gnash their teeth and cry foul at the conference’s vocal contentions of athletic superiority – is backed up by a national championship streak dating back to 2006. It’s called “SEC Speed,” and it’s something Walker knows all too well.
“I’m used to being around fast guys,” he said. Of course he is. Walker is from one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting states, Florida, a gold mine for the Nick Saban’s and Les Miles’ of the world. Walker knows speed, and he knows Northwestern’s linebackers are well-stocked with that particular physical trait. “Just a lot of fast athletes,” Walker said of Northwestern, with special emphasis on WILL linebacker Ariguzo.
The speed he spoke of jumped off the screen throughout last season, as the Wildcats strung together 10 wins and broke an over 60-year streak of program bowl futility. Walker watched most of the Wildcats’ games last season, and enjoyed seeing the linebackers – Ariguzo and Damien Proby in particular – make plays all over the field. He liked what he saw on the other side of the ball, too. “Kain Colter and Venric Mark,” he said. “Those guys are really fast.”
In a discussion of Northwestern’s Gator Bowl victory, the idea of SEC “speed” was inevitably readdressed. I informed Walker of the Mississippi State media contingent’s not-so-subtle superiority complex about their league’s athletes, and Walker laughed it off. In his mind, the final score (Northwestern 34, Mississippi State 20) revealed everything Walker needed to know about the Bulldogs’ “SEC Speed.”
In these final months before heading off to campus – Walker, like most of Northwestern’s 2013 class, is arriving on campus in June to enroll in summer school and begin team weight-training activities – Walker is working on improving his own speed with a regimented training schedule.
“I train every day,” he says. “I use Northwestern’s packet workouts, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are for speed.”
There it is again – speed. Walker knows what that elemental characteristic can mean for a player trying to transition into his first college season. Walker has a few goals in mind for 2013. “Learn the playbook, become more of a student of the game. Get a start on college life. Get acclimated on workouts.” You know, standard stuff. He made sure to add one more important detail. “I don’t want to get off to a slow start, especially academically. Then hopefully I can learn the system and I’ll get a chance to play.”
From his high school playing days to his workouts to his abbreviated timeframe for consideration of a childhood football dream’s scholarship offer, Walker has exuded speed every step of the way. Taking it one step further, Walker will attempt to make that speed a fixture of Northwestern’s linebacking corps over the next four (or five) seasons.
“My play on the field will speak for itself,” he said. “I’m excited. Hopefully I can come in and make the best of it in my first year.”
There is no equivocation here. Walker wants to play, play fast, and play right away.