‘23 NC OLB Rico Walker

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#31
“Everything I saw, I liked everything,” said Walker, who’s ranked by 247Sports as the No. 138 overall prospect and No. 7 edge rusher in the 2023 class and the No. 1 junior from North Carolina. “I liked the atmosphere, fan base. I like the culture that they’re starting to bring, so I liked a lot of things.”

The 6-foot-3, 233-pound Walker said he “was excited to see” the environment inside Neyland Stadium on Saturday. He wasn’t disappointed despite Tennessee’s 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh in the Vols’ first true test under first-year coach Josh Heupel.

“I mean, it’s SEC football, and I wanted to see how their fans were,” Walker said. “It was pretty good, and (that was) with them going against an ACC team. I couldn’t imagine an SEC team.

“They definitely could’ve won. I’m surprised they didn’t win. They had a good defensive performance. I like what they did with their linebackers and stuff like that.”

He said he was watching “the edge rushers and their tight ends to see how they played” during Saturday’s game. He said he wanted to see “how their starters play, how they adapt to certain game situations — stuff like that,” and he came away encouraged by the direction of the program.

“It was definitely a winnable game,” Walker said. “It was just like, more player mistakes more than coaching mistakes. And they didn’t capitalize off some of their mistakes, so that was the biggest thing.

“They’re talking about rebuilding, and they said I could help build back their program, so that’s a big thing. ... I’ve still got my options open, but I’m just seeing how schools are with me mostly. I want to see who’s showing the most love.”

Tennessee showed him plenty of attention before and after the game. He said he spent time with defensive line coach Rodney Garner, linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary, outside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and head coach Josh Heupel, who’s already talking with Walker on a regular basis.

“They were just like, ‘We need big-time players like you,’” Walker said. “I didn’t know that they were that interested in me, so that’s what I like about them, too. They see my talent.”

Heupel is one of the few head coaches who have been in communication with Walker since college coaches were allowed to begin contacting Class of 2023 prospects on Sept. 1. He said he’s talking with Heupel, “like, every other day.”

“That’s different (from other schools),” Walker said. “I mean, I hear from (directors of player personnel). But I want to hear from the coaches. If they’re really interested in me, that’s who I want to hear from — like, the D-line coach, tight end coach, outside linebacker coach. That’s who I want to hear from — the head coach and stuff like that. That’s a big thing for me.”

He said he plans to return to Tennessee on Nov. 13 for its home game against Georgia.

“They’re playing against a good SEC team, so I just want to see the atmosphere again and just see how it goes,” Walker said.
-Callahan
 

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