High school football: Deuce Walker makes his decision

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 12, 2023

By Mike London

SALISBURY — A slide-show presentation played out, with Curtis Walker Jr. — known to an increasingly wide audience of sports fans as Deuce Walker — making the transformation from toddler to football star right before the eyes of the captive audience assembled in the Salisbury High auditorium.

When the slides were done, the massive screen slowly rose, like the curtain being peeled back to reveal the Wizard of Oz.

Coming into view slowly behind that rising screen was a smiling young man whose muscular torso was covered by a dark blue T-shirt.

Was it Duke?

Or Kentucky?

No, it was Georgia State that got a commitment from Walker on Sunday afternoon. That animal mascot on Walker’s chest was one that most Salisbury football fans had never seen or at least had never noticed before. It was the Georgia State Panther.

Walker’s college choice was a well-kept secret that still had fans guessing right up to the moment it was revealed.

As a three-star recruit, he had about 20 Division I offers, including finalists Duke and Virginia Tech, while Kentucky offered the opportunity to play in the SEC. There was a lengthy list of options in the Carolinas — Coastal Carolina, Charlotte, Campbell, Elon, North Carolina A&T, Elon — plus Liberty, James Madison, Old Dominion, Maryland, Marshall and some more.

So Georgia State was a surprise pick, but then again, maybe it wasn’t a surprise, once you considered everything there was to consider.

“I came to a decision about two weeks ago,” Deuce said. “Georgia State has the coaching staff and the program where I really felt the most love. I loved the atmosphere down there and really liked the coaching style.”

Deuce’s mother, LaSheka, confirmed that two-week timetable.

“We knew Deuce had been giving it a lot of thought lately and he said he’d let us know when he’d made up his mind,” she said. “I told him to make out a list of pros and cons for each school he was considering. One night, we’re watching TV and he just walks in and says, “What do you think about Georgia State?'”

The Walkers approved.

Georgia State is a solid program. Shawn Elliott, who coached previously at South Carolina and Appalachian State, is the head coach. The Panthers compete in the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference. There are no slouches in that division. They are all respected football programs — Old Dominion, Georgia Southern, James Madison, Marshall, Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina.

The schedule obviously is challenging, but Georgia State, other than a down year in 2022, has experienced quite a bit of recent success. There were bowl wins in 2017, 2020 and 2021. There was another bowl appearance in 2019.

While Georgia State is very good, it may provide Deuce with an opportunity to play earlier than at an ACC or SEC school.

That was a factor.

Georgia State also didn’t rule out Deuce being a two-way player. That was a factor, as well.

Deuce is a legit, two-way guy now. He was recruited mostly as a cornerback earlier in his career, but he’s now established himself as a pass-catcher who already has broken the Salisbury school record for career receptions. He could conceivably break every receiving record the school has by the end of the season.

He’ll probably settle in on one side of the ball at the Division I level, but offense has become a possibility. He’s a prospect who will at least get a chance to show what he can do on both sides of the ball at Georgia State. Then it will be up to the coaches to figure out where he fits the best and can help the most.

Curtis Walker Sr., who was a Hall of Fame linebacker at Catawba College, as well as a long-time assistant coach and head coach, said Deuce’s recruiting offers were half offense and half defense, as more and more schools have become intrigued by his ability to make big plays in the passing game.

“That’s a credit to Deuce,” Curtis Sr. said. “He’s got a great work ethic, and he’s made himself a very versatile athlete.”

Georgia State is in Atlanta. There are obvious attractions as far as life in a city of that size. There’s a lot to see and do. That’s a recruiting edge for Georgia State over schools located in the smaller towns and cities that recruited Deuce.

Georgia State also had an edge, a connection in recruiting Deuce. Arketa Banks is the Georgia State assistant coach who led the recruiting effort to get Deuce.

There was one football season between the breakup of coach David Bennett’s staff (Walker was the defensive coordinator) that got the Coastal Carolina program started and Walker’s return to Catawba as head coach. Walker spent that 2012 season as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Western Carolina. Banks also was on that WCU staff, so he’s known the Walkers a long time.

Then there’s the Jalon Walker factor.

Jalon is Deuce’s older brother. He’s now a sophomore linebacker at the University of Georgia. Coming out of high school, he probably was the most highly recruited football player in Rowan County history. He had at least 40 Division I offers and could have gone to school anywhere from Carolina to California.

The University of Georgia is in Athens, about 70 miles east of Atlanta, so Deuce and Jalon will be in reasonably close proximity for a year or two.

Curtis Sr. said the family made a visit to check out Georgia State with Deuce and then went to watch Jalon practice at Georgia.

“From Jalon’s apartment to the dorms where Deuce will be staying at Georgia State, its one hour and five minutes,” Curtis Sr. said.

Added LaSheka Walker, “They’ll be close enough where they can hang out some,” she said. “They can talk and they can check on each other.”

There may even be Saturdays when Georgia and Georgia State are both playing at home and at different times and the Walkers can watch both sons, who were teammates on Salisbury’s state championship team in the spring of 2021, play on a single trip.

Jalon was such a huge force in local athletics — he was a Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year and a Rowan County Male Athlete of the Year — that Deuce was “Jalon’s little brother” during his early years of high school. But he emerged as a junior as a star in his own right, and he has picked up the pace as a senior. He is one of the county’s fastest track people and he was an all-county and all-conference basketball player, so he’s become one of the county’s top all-round athletes.

Deuce has made 28 catches in four games this football season for an undefeated squad, and he’s done that for a team with a run-first philosophy.

“Deuce has come far and we’re all very proud of him,” Curtis Sr. said. “It’s an important moment in a young person’s life when they can step up and make a solid college decision, and Deuce made a good one. He’s had to follow family members who had athletic success, and that’s not always an easy thing to do, but he’s thrived. He and Jalon have always been the best of brothers, and they’re excited that they’ll both be in Georgia.”

It was quite a production for the signing announcement on Sunday, with an invocation provided by a minister and a parade of coaches, including AD Derek Butler and Salisbury head coach Clayton Trivett, stepping to the mic to sing Deuce’s praises.

The common theme from all the coaches was that Deuce has grown from a quiet freshman to a vocal senior leader.

He’ll be following his famous big brother down to Georgia for college football, but the crisp blue T-shirt he was wearing on Sunday was a reminder that he’s his own man, with his own destiny to carve out.

“It will be great to be closer to Jalon — he’s always helped me a lot and gives me great advice,” Deuce said. “But the biggest thing is the college decision is behind me. Now I can enjoy my senior year without having to worry about what’s next.”

No worries for Deuce could mean more championships for Salisbury High.