Von Walker is used to multitasking.
Take a look at his final season of high school football, where the hard-hitting, do-it-all player finished as Central Mountain’s top passer, rusher, punter and led the Wildcats with nine tackles for loss. That’s before he went on to finish second on the basketball team in shooting percentage and led the Central Mountain baseball team in hits and RBIs, while hitting .422.
Look at what he’s being asked to do now in his second season as a member of the Penn State football team.
In less that two years, Walker has played on punt and kickoff return teams, running back, defensive back and linebacker for the Nittany Lions. He’s coming off his most extended action yet, when he saw time at linebacker during Penn State’s 48-7 win over Massachusetts last Saturday.
“Our first-string defense played a heck of a game,” Walker said. “It’s really cool when they can play up to that standard and set the second string up where the guys on the second string can get some reps. When I was in there I felt comfortable. Practicing against the scout team every week on the offense, those guys give us probably the best look you can get.
“The practice makes the game a lot easier when you’re working with the guys you’re working with.”
Walker said he’s adjusted and has grown comfortable with not having to be “the guy” as he often was in high school.
He holds 14 Central Mountain football records including points scored in a single game (32), points scored in a season (118) and all of the school’s rushing and touchdowns scored marks. Not bad for a player who’s not on scholarship.
Walker, who said he had other football offers, grew up in Lock Haven as a Penn State fan and was intrigued by the opportunity to try and make the team as a walk-on. He and his parents met with former coach Bill O’Brien who let Walker know it would be a challenge to compete for playing time against scholarship players.
“He told me that it would be tough but he wanted me to a be preferred walk-on,” Walker said. “He thought that I would do alright. So I sat down with my parents for two minutes in his office and we just made the decision right there and it’s been a great decision for me ever since.”
And Walker earned playing time right away. He started the season deep to help on punt returns and has parlayed his experience onto Charles Huff’s special teams units this season.
Huff calls Walker a “nekton” or an organism that can flow freely in the ocean and is unaffected by currents — like a shark.
Walker has started games deep with Grant Haley on kickoff returns and is on every special teams unit except the punt squad. He backs linebacker Mike Hull up in punting situations.
When it comes to kickoff return, Walker knows his job well. While he was a vaunted returner and open field runner at Central Mountain, Walker is fine yielding to the quicker Haley.
“My job back there is the same as his, but primarily he is going to catch the ball and my job is just like the rest of the guys on the team, to try and block the best that I can to set him up to score,” Walker said.
For him, getting a chance to put a hit on an opponent is just as rewarding.
“He plays with a great passion,” senior running back Zach Zwinak said. “He loves this game and he really is one of those guys who likes the physicality of it. He’ll throw his body in there and he doesn’t care what happens. He loves the physical contact and playing the game hard.”
But Walker’s intensity got him in trouble on Penn State’s opening kickoff in Ireland. Central Florida’s Jordan Akins sprinted out of his own end zone and Walker met him at the 17 with a helmet-to-helmet blow that jarred Walker’s helmet from his head. Walker pumped his arms up and down and was flagged for taunting.
“I love Von. I do. I love everything about him,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “He's one of the guys that I signal out all the time to the team as a great example. ... One of the things you have to watch with Von is he plays with so much passion and emotion that we need to make sure that's disciplined with that's as well. But I love him. I wish we had 10 guys like him. And I think his role on special teams and on defense is going to continue to grow for us. We want that guy on the field for us.”