As thousands of college athletes have this year, former Wake Forest running back Kenneth Walker made the tough decision to leave his program via the transfer portal.
After running for 13 touchdowns and 579 yards in just seven games of action for the Demon Deacons, Walker had many suitors but had to choose his next home without even seeing it due to COVID-19 — so blind faith took over.
Not even knowing what campus looked like in person, Walker chose East Lansing and Michigan State as his next stop.
“It was actually my first time when I arrived,” Walker said. “COVID kind of messed everything up with being able to come on campus and do visits. That was my first time. It was pretty different with all the snow and stuff. I’m not really used to it.”
Despite only seeing photos of campus and facilities and not being able to meet his coaching staff, Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker and Michigan State Running Backs Coach William Peagler made Walker feel confident about his choice to move to MSU.
“I felt pretty confident,” Walker said. “It made me feel confident when I talked to him on the phone and everything. I got to see little bits and pieces, but I felt pretty comfortable being able to make that decision not even coming to campus physically.”
The running game was an area of weakness for the Spartans in 2020 as the running backs were unable to find the end zone even one time over the course of the season. The only two rushing touchdowns came from tight end Tyler Hunt and quarterback Payton Thorne.
“The run game was not nearly good enough,” Tucker said. “We all know that, and I think putrid might have been a word that can be used and so it is what it is, but we need to get better. When we can't run the ball on our terms, we can't be good teams. We just can't do it. We need to be able to run the ball when we want to run it.”
With those issues, Tucker and the coaching staff turned to the transfer portal by adding offensive lineman Jarrett Horst, running back Harold Joiner and Walker.
With Walker though, Tucker believes he added something that his running back room didn’t have, which was explosiveness and quickness.
“He's the same guy that we saw on tape,” Tucker said. “He gives great effort, he’s strong, he’s got great quickness, he has balance and body control, he can change direction, he can run through the smoke and he’s got good hands. He's a tireless worker. I haven't seen him low one time in a drill or in group work or teamwork. Nearly every rep he takes, he makes the most of it. I'm glad we have him.”
If anyone had any doubts about Walker’s quickness, just ask defensive end Drew Jordan. The Duke transfer also came to MSU with one season of eligibility remaining after a solid career with the Blue Devils.
Jordan had to face off against Walker and try and stop his explosiveness in games before, something that was no easy task.
"Kenny is a great player, very fast and very physical,” Jordan said. “He will beat you a lot of different ways. I actually did play against him. I don't remember if I tackled him or not just because they had another back of time as well. In the offense that he was playing in, he was definitely able to excel there and just looking at the player that he is right now, he has a lot of tools to be very successful.”
Despite his quickness and other abilities, Walker joins a crowded running back room with breakout freshman Jordon Simmons, the seasoned veteran in Connor Heyward and Elijah Collins, who was the Big Ten’s leading returning rusher coming into last season.
For this group though, they’re ready to push each other to get better each day.
“I think it’s great,” Walker said. “Connor, Jordon, Donovan (Eaglin), Eli, I think we got a pretty good set of backs. We compete at practice, but we also push each other to do our best. I make mistakes, and they critique me and vice versa to make sure we get better.”
In addition to the competition and the uniqueness Walker felt he could bring, Michigan State felt like a place where Walker could display his talents for the next level as well as the offense fit more of an NFL style in his opinion than Wake Forest did.
“It’s more like a pro-style,” Walker said. “We were able to watch film on the league (NFL) and like everything we do now I can see ... they've done exactly the same so that's pretty interesting to me.”
Now that the team has settled in, Walker is looking to make an impact early as his team sets a high bar for their potential success this season.
“I want to be able to make an impact and contribute to the team,” Walker said. “I’ve been able to get to know the guys. We've created a bond. I know we've been working hard on the offseason. A big goal of mine and pretty much everybody else on the team is we want to get a conference championship and go all the way.”
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