Sports

Can UNC and Duke hold off NC State’s momentum and land football target JR Walker?

J.R. Walker runs for extra yardage last season at Northeastern High School. Walker, one of the top athletes in the country, transferred to Clayton High School over the summer.
J.R. Walker runs for extra yardage last season at Northeastern High School. Walker, one of the top athletes in the country, transferred to Clayton High School over the summer. The Daily Advance

Clayton’s JR Walker walked into Carter-Finley Stadium last Friday and all eyes were on him.

Well, maybe not all eyes, but he could definitely feel he was getting some stares. Walker, the four-star safety and No. 12 player in North Carolina could sense he was getting attention from about 16 set of eyes at the Alpha Wolf showcase, N.C. State’s event that invites recruiting targets on campus and allows them to go through drills.

Dave Doeren has already landed 16 in-state commitments from the class of 2019 prospects and many of them know Walker is on Doeren’s wish list. So from the time Walker (6-0, 205) walked in the door, the full court press was on from the future Wolfpack players.

It started with Khalid Martin, the East Forsyth safety who committed to N.C. State earlier this month. Martin and Walker were in the same position group for the Alpha Wolf event, so Martin used his time wisely, constantly reminding Walker that he should join him in Raleigh. It ended hours after the event was over and Walker was finally able to settle down and take a few moments to check his phone. There he found several text messages from committed players who were encouraging him to make the choice to join them at N.C. State.

Clayton senior J.R. Walker talks about his recruitment, including being targeted by several players already commited to N.C. State.



And it never ends.

On a daily basis Walker practices alongside Clayton defensive end Savion Jackson, the four-star prospect who committed to N.C. State in June, picking the Wolfpack over South Carolina. Walker met Jackson years ago on a recruiting trip, and now they are teammates after Walker transferred to Clayton from Elizabeth City Northeastern. Walker said he can’t even have anything red in his locker without Jackson walking over, seeing it, and assuming that’s a sign that Walker will run with the Pack.

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As one of only four uncommitted players in the top 15 of the State, Walker is pretty high on Doeren’s list, easily his top in-state prospect at this point. The key to the class of 2019 has been that so many players have publicly recruited other guys and now Walker appears to be the final piece to the puzzle and is getting the full treatment.

“From the time I got there they were just saying come to State, it’s a good thing,” Walker said. “And I hear it everyday from Savion. Everyday I hear it from him and other players, it’s no pressure or anything, but just to hear them say they really want me, it means a lot. It means a lot to get this much attention around the state I live in.”

It’s not just the N.C. State players and coaches who want Walker. He released a top five list of schools in the spring that included UNC, Duke, South Carolina and Clemson, along with the Wolfpack.

During his junior season at Northeastern, Walker rushed for 1,019 yards and 15 scores on 71 carries. He also averaged 19.1 yards per catch as a wide receiver. On defense, where he plays in the secondary, Walker registered 73 tackles and seven interceptions. In three varsity seasons Walker has racked up 149 tackles and nine interceptions. Offensively, he’s accounted for 3,254 yards and 37 touchdowns. He joins a Clayton team that went 13-1 and made it to the third round of the NCHSAA playoffs.

Walker moved to Clayton from Elizabeth City with his dad, William Walker Sr., the defensive line coach for the Comets. Aside from adjusting to a new school for his senior year, the transition has been smooth. It also helps to be closer to the Triangle, where he can take unofficial visits this fall before he makes his college announcement on Oct. 13. He will take his first official visit, to South Carolina, on Sept. 8. He has one set up at UNC on Oct. 15, the only two official visits he’s arranged so far.

But at this point, the visit to Chapel Hill might just be a formality.

“I have two (schools) in my mind right now that I’m kind of leaning towards,” Walker said. “South Carolina and N.C. State, those two.”

So what will play the biggest factor in the final decision?

“The people,” Walker said. “Which one I feel more at home, and which one I think I can pursue my dreams.”

The big pitch from N.C. State has been winning with homegrown talent. Doeren has made it a point to recruit the best players from North Carolina and has done just that with his 2019 class. It also helps the Wolfpack had seven players drafted into the National Football League in April. That didn’t go unnoticed by Walker, who said that’s something he didn’t see from N.C. State growing up.

“You can tell that the program is on the rise,” Walker said. “My phone was blowing up that day from the N.C. State coaches, telling me that I didn’t have to go out of the state to pursue my dreams, that I could do it right here.”

The first time Clayton head coach Hunter Jenks saw Walker go through drills, he was blown away by his ability.

“I thought “holy cow,’” Jenks said. “He sits back, he’s 6-1, 205, and one of our strongest players, then you flip it around and he has breakaway speed. Right now he’s projected to play defensive back in college, but if you look at him with the ball in his hands he could easily be a wide receiver or a running back. He’s extremely gifted from a physical standpoint and a skill set standpoint.”

Walker said the coaches at South Carolina have mentioned creating some ‘Wildcat’ offensive packages for him if he picks the Gamecocks. The talk has come up a little with N.C. State, but they want to focus on Walker playing defense and possibly returning kicks and punts.

Whatever he brings to the table, Doeren, and the rest of the class of 2019, will welcome Walker with open arms. Thanks to social media, he can’t help but notice that majority of the class have already committed, and even though he is plenty anxious, he holds firm that his announcement won’t come until October, even if that means more time for him to be recruited by his, hopeful, future teammates.

“I’m listening to them, but I try not to let it get in my head,” Walker said. “At the end of the day I’m going to make the decision that is best for me.”

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