Dominant athlete heading to Bama

It's unfair to saddle him with outsized expectations, but those fans that saw him in person this past season won't argue very much. Nick Walker could well be the best receiving tight-end prospect to come to Alabama since Ozzie Newsome.

Newsome, of course, went on to an All-America college career, playing wide receiver for some of Coach Paul Bryant's most dominant wishbone teams. And he followed that up with a storied All-Pro career in the NFL.

So obviously mentioning Walker in the same sentence with the current General Manager of the Baltimore Ravens is unfair. But at least in terms of high school prospects, Nick Walker (6-5, 235, 4.83) is as about as good as they come.

Tall and extremely athletic, Walker was your basic do-everything player for Brundidge High School's state championship team. He was dominant at wide receiver (where he lined up more often than tight end), but Walker also looked very good at defensive end in the state championship game.

Besides offense and defense, Walker punted, kicked off, handled placekicking duties and even rushed the punter for Brundidge. He employs an old-fashioned, straight-ahead placekicking technique, but his extra point was the difference in Brundidge's close overtime victory over T.R. Miller, their closest game in the playoffs.

Nick Walker is on everyone's list of the Top Ten recruits in Alabama this year.

"I kept my head down; I concentrated and just kicked it," Walker explained afterwards.

Mostly his special teams duties were a matter of necessity for a relatively small Brundidge squad. His kickoffs were generally angled left or right and low to the ground, while Walker's punts were aimed away from the return man. But the 6-5, lanky athlete was every bit as valuable to Brundidge this year as their quarterback, "Mr. Football" Chris Nickson.

"I did basically everything," Walker said of his high school career. "It's been that way all my life."

Tall and slender right now, Walker stood head and shoulders above most of his high school teammates. His 40-time doesn't indicate blistering speed, but Walker has soft hands.

Best of all, he knows how to use his size to good advantage. If the ball was thrown his way and it came down to a contest between him or an always-smaller defensive back, Walker made the catch every time. Invariably, whenever Nickson saw that his favorite receiver was isolated one-on-one, he checked to a jump ball that seemed to always work in Brundidge's favor.

Walker is extremely agile for a man his height. He adjusts to the ball once it's in the air, moving under it and making his quarterback look good.

He runs with long, smooth strides and would have been a prototype wideout in Coach Bryant's wishbone offense. But Walker projects at tight end in modern football.

"Tight end is definitely my best position," Walker said. "I played a lot of wide receiver in high school, but tight end is it."

He has the size and athletic ability to bulk up and play defensive end, but Walker has the look of a future all-star at tight end.

On defense Brundidge would utilize Walker as a stand-up defensive end/linebacker, "spying" into the backfield to either rush or pursue the play as needed.

Without question if Walker added 25 pounds or so of muscle, he could be effective at defensive end. Given his performance at the Super Six Championships, it's tempting to wonder if Walker might also play some defense in college. But he says not.

"No, I don't think I'll be playing both ways," said Walker, "just tight end."

The database lists Walker at 235 pounds, but he probably lost back somewhat from that weight during the season. Clearly Walker's forte' is catching the football, but in the two games we watched he also blocked well. When Brundidge wanted to run the football, they'd line Walker up at tight end and run to his side.

College recruiters aren't just looking for good high school players. In college everyone is big and fast, so how an athlete projects against tougher competition is crucial. Walker's frame can easily handle more weight, and he isn't expected to lose any speed as he bulks up.

Most teenagers that tall are relatively awkward, still growing into their size. But Walker displays excellent body control. Whether he's pausing to let a pursuer go by before heading up-field or calmly stiff-arming a would-be tackler to the ground, Walker was dangerous with the ball in his hands after making the catch.

Injuries basically decimated the Tide's tight ends this past season and the position has been a priority in recruiting. After impressing Bama's coaches in person at last summer's mini-camp in Tuscaloosa, Walker was an early commitment to the Tide.

And he hasn't wavered since.

Lined up at wide receiver most of the time on offense, in high school Walker was simply impossible to handle one-on-one.

"I still feel good about my commitment," Walker said. "I'll be playing tight end when I get up there."

RECRUITING NOTES: Alabama also has a commitment from Trent Davidson (6-5, 242, 4.66) of T.R. Miller. Davidson and Walker are generally considered the top two tight end prospects in the state. The Tide is also strongly pursuing Prattville's Travis McCall (6-2, 235, 4.75) who could play tight end, fullback, linebacker or defensive end.

Alabama is allowed to bring in 19 new scholarshipped players this fall. The Tide is expected to sign as many as 22 players in February, anticipating that several will not become qualified. It's also possible that one or more players may be asked to delay entry into The University until the following January, counting against 2005 scholarship numbers, depending on how qualifying issues play out.

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