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‘Bigger, faster, stronger’ Tre Walker fills big hole in the middle of Idaho’s defense in sophomore season

UPDATED: Fri., Sept. 20, 2019, 5:39 p.m.

This is where he came in.

Tre Walker made the leap from high school to college football with the ease of a near prodigy.

As a freshman last year, he played in all 11 of Idaho’s games on special teams. He also played as a backup linebacker, and he got his first of two starts at linebacker when Ed Hall suffered a neck injury and had to sit out against Eastern Washington.

The result wasn’t memorable, as the Vandals got rolled 38-14. But Walker made eight tackles against the Eagles.

Now comes the rematch Saturday, at Idaho’s Kibbie Dome this time, instead of on Cheney’s red turf. At 235 pounds, Walker brings about 15 more pounds of muscle to the proceedings than he did last season and is firmly installed as the Vandals’ middle linebacker.

“I’m more prepared,” Walker said. “I’m more comfortable with our scheme. I feel able to execute my role on the field.

“Getting my body right and understanding my role on the field allows me to play free, play fast.”

Numbers back up his analysis. His tackles per game started at a productive level and have been steadily climbing. He made eight against Penn State, including two for loss, nine against Central Washington in Idaho’s first win, and 13 in the Vandals’ near miss against Wyoming a week ago.

“He’s a different player than last year,” Idaho linebackers coach Adam Breske said. “He’s bigger, faster, stronger.”

Breske added that Walker has “flourished” since being named starter at “Mike” linebacker.

“He’s an extremely physical player, and you don’t have to hide him at all,” Breske said. “He’s also extremely intelligent and makes all the calls.”

Walker, in conversation, is thoughtful and measured; that’s apparently still his demeanor on defense.

“We’re working on making him more vocal,” Breske said.

Beyond the physical improvement and the quick grasp of defensive responsibilities, Walker said one of the best attributes he brings this year is a forward focus.

“I have a positive attitude, an in-and-out, on-to-the-next-play mentality,” he said.

The challenge of playing against EWU quarterback Eric Barriere again enlivens Walker. In their last meeting, Barriere lit up the Vandals, completing 29 of 42 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. His success through the air was set up by 70 yards rushing in 12 carries, which kept Idaho’s defense on its heels. Confining Barriere to the pocket is a major goal.

“We want to force their quarterback to throw,” Walker said. “We want to force him to not play his game.”

Walker brings almost a safety’s turn of speed to pass coverage, but directing that momentum forward toward the Eagles’ quarterback might be more on display.

“It all starts up front,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said. “We want to do a good job of pushing the pocket inside and closing it outside. That’s where it starts.”

Walked said he was excited when he got the call to step in for the injured Hall last season, but never felt the moment was too big for him.

“I was grateful for being on the field,” he said. “(As a freshman), my expectation was to start.” .

Walker said he’s looking forward to renewing the rivalry against EWU.

His experience at Idaho has been positive in ways beyond football. Moscow reminds him of his hometown, Dos Palos, California. He made his official visit to Idaho with a high school teammate who initially committed to the Vandals but subsequently moved on.

“I stayed committed,” Walker said. “I didn’t know anything about Idaho when I came here. I fell in love with it.”

It is the foundation of a relationship that should benefit the Vandals for several years to come, Breske said.

“He’ll be a mainstay here,” Breske said. “No doubt about it.”

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