Homegrown 5-star Travon Walker resets a recruiting narrative at UGA
EDITOR’s NOTE: This original Travon Walker profile continues a special series in partnership with Georgia Farm Bureau profiling homegrown talent from the state of Georgia. To access other HomeGrown Talent articles please visit the series hub on DawgNation.com.
Travon Walker is a name that will always stand out among UGA’s 2019 signing class.
The homegrown Georgia boy was a win for the Bulldogs on the recruiting trail. Clearly. Yet is the type of prospect that is so talented, he can help reset the narrative for the program in a lot of areas.
Consider the following:
- Walker signed with Georgia as the nation’s No. 3 defensive tackle. He was the first 5-star DL prospect to sign with Georgia during the Kirby Smart era. It was a big recruiting win for Bulldogs defensive line coach Tray Scott.
- While the Bulldogs had run up the score at other positions on the trail, the interior DL was an area the Bulldogs had not signed the elite players. The recent stings of in-state losses included Derrick Brown (Auburn) and Aubrey Solomon (Michigan), along with an out-of-state target in Rick Sandidge (South Carolina) over the first two full cycles.
- The Upson-Lee graduate was an All-State level performer in basketball, football and track at the prep level. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound athlete was a key cog as an athletic post defender, scorer and rebounder for back-to-back state championship basketball teams in high school. With regards to football, the 6-foot-5 freshman is still more than agile enough to play out on the edge at defensive end. He has lost some weight from when he reported and is right at 280 pounds. He was up to 290 pounds at the end of his senior basketball season but was back down to 280 at last April’s G-Day.
- When Walker takes the field for the first time at Georgia, he will do so as a prospect that has clear NFL potential. Well-respected scouting analyst Barton Simmons of 247Sports even looks to Walker as a prospect that has all the physical attributes to be seen as a potential No. 1 overall pick in 2022 or 2023.
- Don’t believe it? Check out this video from basketball season earlier this year. Walker did that at 290 pounds.
— Travon Walker (@D1Figure_) February 13, 2019
The fight to sign Travon Walker
Clemson is a hot program right now. The Tigers desperately wanted Walker, too. South Carolina made a very late push. There was a point maybe six months outside of his final recruiting decision that his decision was maybe Clemson or Georgia.
Georgia was able to keep Walker home to play for the in-state school. He silently committed to Georgia a full three weeks before he shared that decision with the world.
DawgNation can remember a conversation with his father, Stead Walker, that traces back to three full years before he made that decision.
“If Georgia recruits him the right way, then I think he winds up at Georgia,” his father said.
That was back when the Bulldogs were bird-dogging 3-star Auburn commitment David Marshall as one of the future first big flips for Smart and the staff on the trail.
The way Georgia treated Marshall and Walker and his family made a big impression here.
“I guess it is like a lot of things in life,” Stead Walker said when his son committed on July 24, 2018. “The first impression and the feeling mattered here for us. The inner feeling that you get I just felt that way when I first spoke to coach Smart with my son. It was a good feeling. It was a really good feeling right from the start.”
“I won’t say that it wasn’t a good feeling when talking to the other coaches. Because there were good feelings there, too. But when you spoke to Georgia and that staff, that feeling was a good one and it was a different feeling from all the rest.”
His own words: Why Travon Walker chose Georgia
Most fans still focus on the stars with Walker; the truly informed know about his exploits on the hardwood and even throwing the shot put.
A lot of folks don’t get to see more than that. With Walker, you see a prospect who is dedicated to his future goals. The general public sees the shine but rarely see the grind. Walker was always bringing up the grind it was going to take from him to rise from where his athleticism and size had already afforded.
He wanted to make sure he applied his sweat equity required to go from very good to great to special.
“He also has a very big heart,” his father said. “Aside from the exterior, he really is a big and happy and a fun-loving kid. I’m not saying that just because he is my child, but he looks past right here and right now. He looks at the big picture and what sort of reactions his actions will have on people. He cares about that.”
Walker had a very advanced understanding of the recruiting process. He shared that on his commitment day.
“I knew if I went to Georgia and football was to be wiped out with my career I knew I would still be happy (as a student) at Georgia,” he said. “I want to come back and give back to my community and I know (from Thomaston) that I am right at two hours away so I will want to come back and start my own business or something here in Georgia.”
He validated Tray Scott as both a recruiter and a position coach at Georgia.
“Coach Scott is a great recruiter he is one of those guys that stayed on me,” Travon Walker said. “He was always down at my school when he came to visit me. If he couldn’t visit me, then he got on the phone with one of my coaches. Even if it was a dead period or something like that. He’s a great recruiter. Just because people might think he wasn’t getting recruits in (to Georgia) awhile back but that doesn’t mean anything now. We’ve got some things coming.”
The former 5-star outlined how the staff planned to use him going in.
“I will play whatever,” he said. “I just want to get on the field. But Georgia is talking about moving me to a ‘5’ (technique) mainly at defensive end but on third-and-long I can move inside to a (3-technique) a little bit and get a little faster pass rush in. You’d have Nolan (Smith) down at (defensive) end and you’ll bring another outside linebacker down and we’ll have a lot of speed coming from off the end.”
He has two clear goals going in. The first is to get his education. The second will be to bring that long-sought national championship to Georgia.
The special part of the Travon Walker commitment story
His former Upson-Lee coach, Tommy Parks, helped instill that work ethic before he suffered a serious heart attack before his junior season. He collapsed in his home after a family walk just before a beach vacation.
It took more than 300 chest compressions before help arrived and he was life-flighted to Macon. He had a 100-percent blockage of the anterior artery known as the “widow-maker.”
The issues and his continued recovery were complicated by the trauma itself, along with the oxygen loss to his brain. A Facebook page was established titled “TP Strong” to monitor, his care, rehabilitation efforts and his long-term recovery. Parks made a lot of friends in this life with his vibrant personality and just the way he looks at things.
He is still progressing with his recovery and is still in need of prayers. The Walkers remains very close friends with his family.
Walker included a tribute to Parks in his commitment video. Parks is a longtime friend of Smart. He told DawgNation a story one time that dates back to the Jordan Jenkins recruitment.
Jenkins eventually signed with UGA. Smart lost that one when he was at Alabama. But there was a time when every coach in the country was hanging around the Harris County program — trying to sign Jenkins.
Smart called to let him know he was on his way but also knew the right way to make that collection of coaches nervous. He brought something to eat that he knew Parks preferred.
He knew the other coaches would see how the Harris County coach reacted to that and feel like they were on the outside looking in with this recruitment.
Parks made an impact on Walker when he was in the eighth grade.
“I wasn’t the best student,” Walker said on his commitment day. “I got into some trouble my eighth-grade year and was a child back then. Just do some crazy things back then. I cared about football. I wanted to go to college, but I wasn’t willing yet to put in that extra work.”
Coach Parks was very direct with Walker. He laid the ground rules for what he expected out of him on the team. Even then. He was a ninth-grader coming up with some good size and was going to play a role even back then.
“That was what I needed to hear,” Travon Walker said.
Parks took him to meet his first college coach as a recruit. It was Smart at Alabama. Not anyone at Georgia. Or even Nick Saban at Alabama. It was Smart.
“Coach Parks is just a great man,” Stead Walker said on his son’s commitment day. “He’s been a part of this for us since day one. We talk to him two or three times a week. We see him once a week. He is still a big part of our lives.”
He even made a big cameo in that commitment video below.
“We were over before we committed and Travon was talking to him and he asked him where he wanted him to go and coach just said ‘Georgia’ and he kept saying ‘Go Dawgs’ that day,” his father said. “That was the further confirmation we needed to hear from himself.”