Growing up in nearby Mill Hall, Von Walker has always been close to Penn State and he’s kept the Nittany Lion football program near his heart since he was a little kid.
Now, the Central Mountain High star is closer to Happy Valley than ever before.
He’ll head to University Park in just five days where summer classes will begin and his career as a preferred run-on for Bill O’Brien’s team will commence with summer workouts. As a first order of business, Walker will play in Friday’s Lezzer Lumber Classic at Bald Eagle Area High School, sponsored by the Centre Daily Times.
It will be his final high school game, on a stage Walker has starred on for a long time.
“Other schools were interested, but it was always Penn State from the beginning,” Walker said. “This year, I got the chance to even make an (impression) on the program I wanted to, after they offered me the preferred walk-on, run-on spot, I was just going to take that.”
That happened in December, when Walker and his parents sat down with O’Brien and offensive line coach Mac McWhorter. The Penn State offensive line coach started recruiting Walker as a junior and had seen plenty by the time Walker’s senior season came to an end at the hands of the State College Little Lions in the District 6/9 Class AAAA playoffs in November.
By the end of that game, a 42-25 rout at Memorial Field, Walker had rushed for over 1,500 yards and thrown for another 1,200 on the year. Over the last three seasons, Walker has racked up 5,483 offensive yards, 50 touchdowns and 161 tackles for the Wildcats. On Friday, he’ll try to churn out more offense or prevent it on the other side of the ball for the North squad.
Transition from sport to sport isn’t new to Walker, who is fresh off his final baseball campaign for the Wildcats. He expects his next transition to be a bit more difficult.
“I think it’s better for me to go up and get my feet wet,” Walker said. “I’m only taking one class, get a couple of practices under you and we lift twice a day.”
McWhorter and O’Brien foresee Walker as a hybrid offensive player in the mold of a slot receiver or running back. Walker said he expects to be watching film of Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead, two New England Patriots players with similar assignments at O’Brien’s last coaching stop.
While he’ll have new terminology to learn, Walker’s already taken to O’Brien’s penchant to change verbiage as it relates to non-scholarship players. As a result, Walker’s had to correct those who have asked if he’s walking on at Penn State.
“A lot of people ask me if I’m walking on to Penn State,” Walker said. “It’s totally different I feel like with all the sanctions and everything that happened. I think (O’Brien) said run-on because when I go there in five days and just go out and you’re there. You just run out on the field and go.”
For some local players, Friday’s game will be their last taste of organized football.
State College’s Mike Rizzuto and Penns Valley’s Zach Harter are two players who will not pursue athletics at the collegiate level. For them, this final football experience has been enjoyable so far.
“This is definitely a first,” Rizzuto said. “It’s fun to meet the players you’ve played against.”
When Harter learned he’d be playing in the game, he aimed to set aside a few weeks to prepare as he didn’t have the luxury of a long baseball season to keep himself in shape. For him, he wants to be in prime form seeing as how this is his final go-round.
“It’s a real special game to play in,” Harter said. “My brother played in this game, so it’s kind of nice to be able to play in it after my brother played in it a couple of years ago.”