After one of the best careers in Northwestern football history, middle linebacker Anthony Walker became the Wildcats first player since 1996 to declare for the NFL Draft with college eligibility remaining. Now he’ll go to Indianapolis, as the Colts drafted him in the fifth round at No. 161.
In a three-year career at Northwestern, Walker racked up 276 total tackles, including 38 tackles for loss. He also intercepted four passes, one of which he returned for a memorable touchdown.
Beloved by teammates and coaches for his energy and sense of humor as well as for his on-field talent, Walker will go down as one of the best and most popular players in Northwestern history.
Who is Anthony Walker? 5 things to know
1. Walker was only a 3-star recruit out of Monsignor Pace High School
Walker was hardly a can’t-miss prospect.
According to 247Sports, he was a 3-star recruit and only the 61st best outside linebacker (he moved inside in college) in his recruiting class. He received scholarship offers from only three power-conference schools: Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern.
The big-name schools in his native Florida never came around, and he committed to Northwestern before his senior year of high school.
2. During his redshirt season, coaches weren’t sure he could play in the Big Ten
Walker redshirted his true freshman season in 2013, and even after several months in the Wildcats’ program, coaches weren’t sure he was cut out for the Big Ten. Specifically, they were concerned that he was too heavy—most of the extra weight was muscle—and too stiff.
According to a profile of Walker on SI.com, linebackers coach Randy Bates called Walker’s father, himself a coach, and explained the staff’s concerns. When the elder Walker asked whether his son could make it, Bates responded “I don’t know.”
Thanks to hard work from Walker, that question was answered quickly.
3. He had a pick-six in his first college start
It didn’t take long for Walker to introduce himself to Northwestern fans.
With starting middle linebacker Colin Ellis injured, Walker stepped into the starting role for a game against Penn State in State College. The redshirt freshman made the most of his opportunity, with eight tackles and a fourth-quarter interception of Christian Hackenberg that he returned for a touchdown. Walker’s play was a big reason the Wildcats upset the Nittany Lions 29-6.
From then on, Walker was an anchor of Northwestern’s defense.
4. His sophomore season was one of the best in Northwestern history
Walker’s sophomore season in 2015 was so good it earned him a place on the Ryan Field facade.
The middle linebacker began the year with 10 tackles in a Northwestern upset of Stanford and never took his foot off the gas. He had 19 tackles against Duke, 13 against Nebraska, 10 against Penn State and 14 apiece against Purdue and Illinois. Offenses just could not neutralize his speed and instincts.
When the dust settled on the season—in which the Wildcats went 10-3—Walker had 120 tackles, four sacks and an incredible 19 tackles for loss. Those numbers earned Walker consensus All-Big Ten recognition, as well as All-America honors from Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press.
Blockers keyed in on Walker in 2016, preventing the junior from repeating his gaudy numbers of the previous season (He still had 105 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss), but 2015 cemented his status as a Northwestern legend.
5. He was nicknamed “The Franchise” by running back Justin Jackson, and his teammates absolutely adored him
Every year, the Northwestern team votes on which player deserves the special No. 1 jersey. Often, the honor goes to a reserve who works hard but lacks elite talent.
In 2016, it went to the best player on the team.
— Pat Fitzgerald (@coachfitz51) August 7, 2016
In addition to the No. 1 jersey, Walker was awarded an admiring nickname: The Franchise. That moniker began as a joke, used by Walker’s friend and teammate Justin Jackson to tease the humble linebacker. But soon it spread, and before long, the Northwestern athletic department had designed superhero lunch boxes bearing Walker’s name and nickname.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) July 19, 2016
Walker never asked for the adoration, but his teammates provided it anyway because Walker is exactly the type of person—and player—who’s easy to praise.