College football programs already pursue 15-year-old son of Darlington native
By Beverly Snowden
Hickory (N.C.) Public Schools
HICKORY, N.C. — Part genetics and part passion. Those seem to be the two primary factors contributing to the early recognition of 15-year-old Hickory High sophomore, Rico Walker.
He’s not just getting noticed. Rico Walker, who has only played high school football for one season, has received offers from four universities to play football upon high school graduation.
Those four institutions of higher education with strong athletic programs include: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; University of South Carolina; Mississippi State University; and Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University).
“I’ve been coaching football for 41 years, and I have never had a sophomore to receive offers like this,” said Hickory High’s Head Football Coach, Russell Stone.
At 4, Rico watched his brothers playing football. He joined in and picked up the ball with a natural ability — as it didn’t take long for him to grasp tackling, catching, and running with the ball.
A chip off the old block, Rico proudly shares that it’s all in the genes. After all, his father, Ricardo Walker, was the MVP for the 1991 Shrine Bowl (attended high school in Darlington) and recruited to play for Auburn University.
Through the years, Rico played with Hickory Rec and continues to play for AAU teams. And though the Hickory High football season has been postponed until February 2021 due to COVID-19, the team will soon start practice and Rico can’t wait. “I’m doing some sit-ups, push-ups, football drills — but I am looking forward to being back with my team,” he said.
The son of Ricardo Walker and Darnessia Walker, Rico also enjoys spending time with his siblings, one brother and two sisters. Unfortunately, he lost one older brother just a few years ago.
“He passed away the day before a middle school scrimmage,” said Rico. “It was very hard to move forward, but I learned a lot about people who really care for you and the meaning of self-discipline. It’s important to get back on your feet, face the challenges, and never give up. I don’t buy into the bad stuff and the parties. I am trying to keep level-headed for my future.”
Rico was recently recognized by the Prep Redzone of North Carolina as the top recruit on the Watch List for the Class of 2023. He was also interviewed during the VTO Elite 100 Camp at the Matthews SportsPlex about his early offers.
So what does his future hold? Rico is excited about the current offers. Coach Stone hints at the possibility of quite a few more, names he is reserving until it is official. However, Rico is considering his major in college, too – realizing that football might be the means to achieve a career.
“I really love the outdoors — the mountains and nature, and I would like to see what programs are available with outdoor studies. Perhaps even archeology,” he said.
“I appreciate all of my coaches and I am grateful for the conversations I’ve experienced with the college coaches,” said Rico, who currently stands 6 feet 4 inches, weighing 215 pounds. In the ninth grade, according to Coach Stone, Rico was in on 42 tackles and four sacks as a defensive end. On offense, he had 23 receptions, 327 yards and eight touchdowns.