Deone Walker, a top-rated defensive tackle from the class of 2022, has narrowed down his list of preferred schools to a top 13 with the Kentucky Wildcats sliding into the picture.
His ranking fluctuates a bit depending on which recruiting outlet you fancy–247 Sports has Walker as a very highly-rated three-star prospect, on the cusp of earning that fourth mark, while Rivals went ahead and gave him the four-star grade. Rivals also has Walker ranked as the eighth-best player from the state of Michigan in 2022.
Standing around 6-foot-7 and weighing roughly 330 pounds, Walker is being recruited by several of the nation’s premier programs, but not just for defensive tackle. Some schools, such as Kentucky, envision him playing on either side of the ball or potentially switching to the offensive line. Walker spoke with KSR on Monday, shortly after he announced his top 13 on Twitter, to give a better idea about the schools that made the cut, what he likes about them, and his timeline going forward.
Top 13???? pic.twitter.com/tnuHEGJ3n6
— ????? ??????? (@deonewalker51) April 26, 2021
But before Walker would get into his top 13, he rattled off some of the programs that just barely missed his cut: Tennessee (which he said was the hardest contender to leave off), Louisville, Kansas, Syracuse, and Illinois. When you take a look at some of the schools that did make his list–Florida, Arkansas, LSU, Michigan, Penn State, Georgia, Texas, Oregon, and Missouri, along with the ‘Cats–it’s understandable to see why the Louisvilles and Syracuses of the college football world were left off. Walker has the potential to be great at both the college and NFL level and he knows it.
Some programs are clearly more enticing than others, but it’s clear that Kentucky has a legitimate shot to land Walker’s services. Here’s what Walker told KSR about several of the schools that made his top 13.
Florida: “They actually like me a lot. I can tell their love is genuine. They were one of the first to offer me before this whole big spike of offers. I’m just glad that they believed in me.”
Michigan State: “I’m not going to lie, they were one of the final ones to put in. I had a long good talk with [Head] Coach [Mel] Tucker before I was thinking about putting them in, it was actually today. He was like ‘Why would you put me out of the race if you don’t even know what I have to offer?’ And that really got me.”
Michigan: “They’re genuine. I talk to them a lot. I’ve been talking to them a lot recently and the whole defensive staff.”
Arizona State: “I got some boys [at Arizona State]. They got some big recruits that like Arizona State.”
Penn State: “My boys [who go to Penn State] have been talking to me about them like it’s a real great school but don’t get too big of a head because all of these offers and stuff don’t matter once you get to college.”
Oregon: “I talk to Coach [Mario] Cristobal. I can tell they got love for me. Anything could be going on and they’ll still try to talk to me and let me know they’re still there for me.”
Missouri: “My boy Devin Nicholson goes there. That’s my guy. I talk to [recruiting specialist Kevin Pendelton], he’s been pushing Missouri on me for o-line. They’re on me hard.”
Pittsburgh: “I actually got back in contact consistently with them. Pitt’s a great school, they want me for offensive line and defensive line.”
Kentucky: “Really Coach [Steve] Clink[scale] and Coach [Eric] Wolford. They pushed it on me so much. They showed that they have a loving system and that they really care for me and that if I do go out of state to them, they’re going to make sure I’m safe, I’m kept right, and I’m well.”
Diving a bit deeper, Walker didn’t have much to say about the likes of Georgia or LSU, although both schools only extended scholarship offers last month in March. Penn State and Texas were the same way in terms of what Walker had to say about them, but he did add that he likes both of those programs. Michigan State, Texas, Arkansas, and Pittsburgh appear to have some ground to make up, but have done enough already to remain in the mix.
Michigan, his top in-state school, was his very first offer all the way back in the summer of 2020. Oregon and Florida both got in on Walker just before he began to blow up on the national scene, and he takes that into account, but Kentucky was way ahead of both programs, offering him back in January of this year.
KSR asked Walker to explain in a bit more detail what he likes about Kentucky and what the coaching staff’s pitch to him has been. As a quick refresher, Walker plays his high school football at Cass Technical up in Detroit, MI, where current Wildcat DeAndre Square attended high school. Walker is also friends with UK nose guard Marquan “Bully” McCall, who came to Lexington from the Detroit area. The proven ability of Kentucky’s staff to develop kids from that section of the country is not lost on Walker.
“They’ve [Kentucky] taken a lot of Detroit kids and made them way better,” Walker told KSR on Monday. “Big Bully and DeAndre Square. I talk to DeAndre and he’s like ‘Yeah, Kentucky might have been the best move I made in my life.’ It’s a loving system, they show a lot of love, and he said that he could play early and they’ll let you work for your spot no matter what grade you’re in. Some schools show favoritism to the third years.”
Walker and Square still communicate. The rising senior could potentially play with Walker by the time Walker reaches college, that is if Square elects to flex his free year of eligibility that was awarded to all student-athletes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of course he wants me to go there,” Walker said about his conversations with Square. “But we’ve FaceTimed before and this is what he said to me: ‘I want you to come here, I want to play with you, but I’m gonna support you wherever you go.’”
Coach Clinkscale (defensive backs) and Coach Wolford (offensive line) are both involved in Walker’s recruitment, letting him know that he could come to Kentucky and play either offensive or defensive tackle. While he doesn’t have a personal preference on which position he ends up playing, Walker added that UK believes he has special potential protecting the quarterback.
“They said it’s up to me,” Walker said about which position he would play if he were to pick Kentucky. “They offered me for offensive line but I just talked to them the other day, he said they’ll take me for defensive line too if that’s what I really want to do. But they just feel like I got a pro offensive tackle type body.”
With the recruiting dead period finally coming to an end on June 1, on-campus visits are going to ramp up in a big way. When KSR spoke with Walker last month, he indicated that he had an unofficial visit planned for Michigan and that he was trying to set something up with Missouri. However, a month later, Walker is now going to wait until the fall before making campus visits in order to attend games in person for a more authentic feel of what a gameday atmosphere would be like at those schools.
If Kentucky can convince Walker to join the Wildcats, he would become the third offensive tackle from the class of 2022 (Kiyaunta Goodwin and Grant Bingham) and would immediately become one of the stars of the group.