‘23 NC OLB Rico Walker

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The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Walker also told Callahan that he's scheduled to return to North Carolina later this month for its cookout. He said he also intends to visit N.C. State during the final week of July.

First-year Tennessee coach Josh Heupel's staff extended a scholarship offer to Walker two months ago, on May 13. He now has received offers from more than 15 schools, including North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, N.C. State, Penn State, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Walker is ranked the No. 79 overall prospect and No. 5 edge rusher in the 2023 class and the No. 2 rising junior from the state of North Carolina, according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite. He's also a top-100 prospect nationally in 247Sports' rankings.

After getting his offer from the Vols in May, Walker told GoVols247 that it "was one of the offers that I’ve been waiting on," and he "was very excited that they offered." He said at the time that he was planning to visit Tennessee in the near future, adding that he would "be down there between June 1st and the 6th," although he didn't end up making the trip to Knoxville last month.

“I feel like they have a really good program, and they’re right up the road,” Walker said of Tennessee in May. “They’ve produced some pretty good athletes, and I feel like I can trust their coaching staff.”

He put together a strong sophomore season this spring, when the state of North Carolina played its high school football season after postponing it during the fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He recorded 37 tackles during his sophomore season, including four tackles for loss and two sacks, along with three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in seven games. He also added 13 receptions for 374 yards and five touchdowns on offense, averaging 28.8 yards per catch.

Walker, who has played wide receiver and linebacker at Hickory, told Callahan that he recently picked up pass-rushing.

"I just started edge-rushing — like, really learning technique and really competing at it," Walker told Callahan. "I really never worked on pass-rushing, so that was new to me."
-Callahan
 
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“It felt great being there and learning about the program,” Walker told Volquest following the unofficial. “I really didn’t know Tennessee had that much interest in me. They were all telling me how much they loved my game and everyone said they were excited for me to be there.

“I talked to coach [Mike] Ekeler a lot and he was pumped to see me and to tell me how I would be used in that defense.”

The Hickory, N.C. native stands in at 6-foot-4 with the playing weight of 225 pounds. He plays on the outside, rushing the passer and dropping back in coverage. Walker fits the ‘multiple’ look Tennessee is trending towards on the defensive side of the football.

“The day started with coach [Rodney] Garner. He recruited my dad to Auburn back in the day, so it was like a reunion for them,” Walker said. “Then we went on a tour of the facilities to get a feel for things. We did a photo shoot and then I had a long talk with coach [Josh] Heupel.”

The conversation with the head coach was more about the area, the school and not just about football. The four-star was able to see some of the current players working out and was able to get a first-hand look at what being a student-athlete at Tennessee was all about.

“The biggest takeaways for me were how great the facilities and people were,” the outside linebacker said. “Everyone in the building welcomed me with open arms and wanted to know more about me. They knew who I was, but wanted to know more about who I am.

“They are good people.”

The Hickory standout has 17 offers to date with North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Tennessee showing the most interest so far. UT offered the four-star back in May and the recruitment has been headed up by the trio of Garner, Brian Jean-Mary and Ekeler.

Along with Tennessee, Walker has made stops at NC State and North Carolina this week after camping at Alabama, LSU, Georgia and UNC in June. The prospect also checked out Florida and Florida State in June.

Walker took part in an abbreviated spring season as a sophomore where he racked up All-State and All-Conference honors. The athlete plays wide receiver and tight end on offense where he concluded the season with five touchdowns.

Some teams have interest in Walker as an offensive player at the next level, but the Vols are channeling in on his abilities at outside linebacker. The athlete also stars on his basketball team, averaging 15 points for Hickory this past season.

“This past spring season was kind of weird with everything going on,” the prospect concluded. “I feel like I did well, but I know I can play a lot better this upcoming season. I’ll also be looking forward to traveling in the fall and checking out some games.

“I’d like to come back to Tennessee. They are in it for sure.”
-VQ
 

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