The last time Joe Walker had visited Madison, Wis., he and his Green Bay Notre Dame teammates were busy winning a state title. The explosive Tritons dominated the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 3 championship game in a 48-27 win over Wisconsin Lutheran, Nov. 21.
"It was awesome especially with such a big win," Walker said. "We didn't expect it to be that crazy."
He returned to the University of Wisconsin campus Dec. 12-14 for his official visit and firmed up his commitment.
"It was a lot of fun," Walker said. "We did all the normal stuff. We went in the locker room and we had a meeting with the strength and conditioning coaches. Ate a lot of food. Sunday we were at coach Alvarez's house, ate breakfast, and everyone had an individual meeting. Friday night basically went out with the players, just kind of hung out. It was finals week in Madison so there wasn't too much cracking, but hung out with some of the players and had a good time. We had a campus tour and stuff like that. I've been to Madison a lot so I kind of fell asleep during that."
Walker will take an increasingly more common route to a scholarship, agreeing to greyshirt at Wisconsin and begin his scholarship in Jan. 2005.
"It is probably the best thing for me to do," Walker said.
Walker plans on enrolling for the fall semester and will set his sights on preparing for his first practices in spring 2005.
The Associated Press state Player of the Year, Walker was a consensus first-team all-state selection as a tight end and also received first-team honors as a defensive end from AP and the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association. Walker finished his senior season with 33 receptions for 1,023 yards and 13 touchdowns and also had 50 solo tackles and 17 sacks.
A 6-foot-2, 200-pound athlete with 4.5 speed, Walker will begin his UW career at drop linebacker but could convert to strong safety.
In addition to Wisconsin, Walker had a scholarship offer from North Dakota State to play receiver and had received interest from Texas Tech, Vanderbilt, Penn State, Kansas State, Northwestern and Minnesota. The Gophers, Wildcats and Red Raiders had been pursuing him the closest but backed off when he began to lean heavily toward Wisconsin. Walker received a scholarship offer from the Badgers in mid-November, but initially needed to mull over the prospect of greyshirting and playing defense. Two weeks ago he gave a tentative verbal commitment, which became concrete after his recent visit.
Walker also received late interest from Northern Illinois, which would have jumped right in if Walker had left his Wisconsin visit without a standing verbal commitment.
"The head coach came to my house and basically said that if I didn't commit on my visit to Madison that they'd offer me a scholarship and then I'd take my visit (Jan. 11)," Walker said. "With that it was more of a last-minute kind of thing. They came in a week before I was going to come to Madison. It was all really quick. I didn't expect them to come at me at all. It was the kind of thing where they needed a linebacker and they heard about me and so we got film…but I just decided that Madison was the best place for me to go."