Nobody expected Tre Walker to graduate with a quiet career at K-State. A three-star athlete, he was rated the nation’s 59th best outside linebacker, one of the ten best players in the state of Kansas, and won a 6A State Championship with Wichita North his senior year. And he never disappointed, playing in all 13 games as a true freshman in 2010, recording a goal line stop against Miami to help beat the Hurricanes in 2011, and totaling 99 tackles over his first two years. However, his most memorable moment in 2012 was against Texas Tech when his knee buckled and ACL tore, going down for the season.
Losing Walker sucked last year, and we can play what-ifs some other day. The question is, what can we expect of the linebacker in 2013? One of two returning defensive starters from last year, the answer is big things, as he should put up the biggest statistics of a linebacker unit that should be the best defensive unit on the team.
While Walker averaged almost 50 tackles his first two years with the team, he was on pace for about 30 last year. This was not a reflection of a regression in Walker’s abilities, but the superb talent that surrounded him. Meshak Williams and Adam Davis seemed to swallow up runners at the line while Jared Tuggle, Jarell Childs, and Arthur Brown were all available to track down any runners that got into the second level. Additionally, K-State really only played one close game last year – against Oklahoma (and to an extent Iowa State). Opposing teams were constantly playing catch up and passing against the Wildcats, leaving fewer ball carriers to tackle.
The same should not be true in 2013. The Big 12 is expected to be better overall, K-State may take a step back, and there should be more close games with more runs called. Additionally, the defensive line will allow a couple more plays (last year’s line was a once-in-a-decade). That will mean more opportunities, and there’s no reason not to expect Walker to come up with a solid 65 stops this year. Combined with a couple sacks, Walker should be one of the best linebackers in the conference and I fully expect him to be named to the conference’s first team.
However, statistics won’t be the only reason to value Walker. His intangible leadership was one of the greatest concerns people voiced when he went down, and with a group of fresh faces, his direction will be invaluable this year. However, there’s no reason to believe he’ll be left alone blowing in the wind this year. As discussed previously, I don’t think last year’s reserves received nearly enough credit. Additionally, Blake Slaughter should be solid and some combination of Nick Ramirez, Jonathan Truman, and the rest of the crew.
When you look at the sum of the parts, there’s no reason Walker shouldn’t be expected to garner a Big 12 First Team recognition. Additionally, the media will constantly bandy about some combination of discussing his injury comeback and leadership qualities, insuring maximum national exposure. Those combinations should put him in the running for recognition on the national level as well, with a potential NFL draft pick in 2014.