Virginia Tech defensive tackle Ricky Walker is one of those guys that has a competitive fire running through his veins. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive tackle learned quickly that when you grow up with two brothers, competitiveness is a necessity.
Walker, a 2017 All-ACC Honorable Mention selection, is not the only college football player in his family. His older brother Rijo played for Virginia from 2010 to 2013. As a free safety, Rijo finished his collegiate career with 62 tackles and one interception. Ricky’s younger brother Mondo continued the lineage of Walker brothers playing collegiate ball. The Bishop Sullivan standout signed with Army in February and will be a defensive back for the Black Knights in the fall.
“Growing up we competed all the time, not just football,” Walker said. “It was from playing basketball to wrestling to fishing to anything we did, we were competing. I think that helped me and helped them as far as being a competitor and playing ball.”
Through those battles, Rijo was still the guy Ricky looked up to, as the Virginia football team also did later. Rijo was voted captain in 2013, his senior year under Mike London. He’s now a team operations coordinator with the College Football Playoff.
“That’s my role model. I used to love going to the games and just see him out there doing his thing,” Walker said. “Growing up he would talk a little trash because he would always win in a wrestling match. He was older than me and a little stronger than me. I never beat him. He was always faster than me. He would always beat me in video games and say ‘You’ll never beat me. You’re the little brother.’ It’s stuff like that back then. Once he left for college I think that’s when we became real close.”
The same competitiveness came out again when Ricky had a hard time admitting that Mondo may have been the best football player between the three of them at a young age.
“I think Mondo had the best rec league,” Walker eventually said. “He was running back and scored every time he touched the ball.”
Mondo is the one Walker who’s a different breed than his two older brothers, choosing to throw himself into the fire by attending West Point instead of a college in the Commonwealth like Rijo or Ricky.
“Mondo is different from both of us,” Walker said. “He’s the outcast. He’s louder and he talks junk. He don’t care. He’s a great ballplayer and a great guy. He leads a different way, more energy. Nothing wrong with that.”
Now in his redshirt senior season, Walker intends to carry that same competitiveness that he acquired with his brothers on the football field for one last collegiate season. The respect that Walker garners from his teammates is an indication of the role that he will fill in Virginia Tech’s 2018 season.
“He is the captain of this team,” said quarterback Josh Jackson. “He’s the leader. He’s the bell cow, the pail holder. He’s who everybody on our team should look up to and respect, and I can’t really say more about him.”
Walker is the unquestioned leader of the Lunch Pail Defense, the guy who made that known by carrying the lunch pail with him to every photo opportunity at the ACC Kickoff. The bell cow who won’t back down when a challenge is thrown his way, including his response of ‘L-O-L’ when asked about UVA’s team goal to beat Virginia Tech this year.
“Ricky is there every day and does exactly what we ask him to do,” Fuente said. “It’s about encouraging others to come along and reach that accountability is the important thing for Ricky. We’re seeing him do that. He’ll have to speak more. Cause Ricky, when [he] speaks everyone listens to [him]. When [he] speaks I listen to [him]. I have that much respect for him. Don’t be afraid to wield that sword so to speak.”
Now the Hampton, Virginia native has his chance to combine the “slam you on your neck” style of Rijo and the outspoken style of Mondo to this Virginia Tech team. Last year, Virginia Tech lacked a vocal presence that the team could look to when things would start to fall apart. Two years ago, fullback Sam Rogers filled that role, and if the ACC Kickoff was any indication, it appears the Hokies might have their guy this year in Walker.
“I’m definitely taking pride in that,” Walker said. “I will do whatever for the team. The team is always first and I’m excited for this new chapter and this new role. Sam Rogers and those guys were great leaders and spokespersons. I’m going to take what I can from those guys and lead for this team.”
The Virginia Tech defense only returns four starters from a unit that only allowed 14.8 points per game in 2017, good for the fourth-best mark in the entire nation. The responsibility falls on Walker to show the younger guys the ropes and what Bud Foster expects out of the defense ahead of the opener in Tallahassee.
“In all the years I’ve been here, this is probably the one year that it’s been ‘In Bud We Trust.’ That’s just because of our depth and our experience level,” Walker said. “After the first couple weeks it’s not going to be Bud, it’s going to be us, especially if we accept that challenge. Week One is going to tell us a lot, so I’m excited.”
Walker has one more season in a maroon and orange uniform. That’s one more year to let that competitiveness burn and signal to the opposing offense that the Lunch Pail Defense is charging full-force after them. After all, that is what a bell cow does.