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2021 football preview: Rather than look ‘down the road,’ Tre Walker eager to lead Idaho’s defense again

By Peter Harriman For The Spokesman-Review

Tre Walker’s college football career is a feel-good story about outperforming expectations.

In his case, he used the one football scholarship offer he had, from the University of Idaho, as the foundation for a career that has seen him gain first-team All-America honors following the abbreviated 2021 spring season from the Associated Press, Stats Perform, Hero Sports and Phil Steele Football Championship Subdivision and second team honors from the American Football Coaches Association.

Going into his junior year with the Vandals, Walker is a Buck Buchanan Award finalist, first team All-Big Sky Conference and the league’s preseason defensive player of the year, and he is on the Senior Bowl watch list. In four games last spring he led the league with an average 13.5 tackles per game, 54 overall, as a middle linebacker.

Walker has emerged as a team leader, and at 6-1, 240 pounds, he is big enough and quick enough to employ his linebacking skills almost anywhere.

He’s had offers. But the trajectory of his life as a Vandal has him content.

“It’s going good here,” he says. “Coming in as a freshman, I did not know what to expect. But I’ve had great mentors and coaches.”

Walker has had a chance to measure himself against the likes of Florida and Penn State, recording a tackle against the Gators and five against the Nittany Lions. His face lights up with a smile anticipating the Vandals matchups against Indiana and Oregon State this season.

“In high school. I played with guys who later played at very big schools. I know I can play at that level,” he says.

When Walker was a freshman, there were still Vandals who had been recruited to Idaho when it was a member of the Football Bowl Subdivision Sun Belt Conference and who went through the transition back to the FCS Big Sky after Idaho concluded two decades of FBS football.

“Everybody’s ego was a little different,” Walker say of those teammates. “But once the whistle blew, we were all the same.”

Walker says “I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about transferring,” and he has had at least one offer to move up. He won’t specify where but refers with pointed obscurity and a sly grin to a school “down the road.” If the road is U.S. Highway 95 that could be Boise State. If it is the Moscow-Pullman highway it would be Washington State. Also, Walker says his father still gets inquiries from coaches who considered recruiting him in high school but passed, saying, “how’s Tre doing at Idaho?”

From Dos Palos, Calif., a town of 5,300, Walker transferred to Fresno Central High School for his senior year, was first-team All-Tri River Athletic Conference and led his team to its first Central Section Division championship. However, he figures that body of work wasn’t enough to convince FBS coaches he could play at that level.

No matter, Walker has seen teammates like Kaden Elliss go from Idaho to the National Football League, where Elliss is in his third year with the New Orleans Saints and contending for a position as a starting linebacker. He can get there from here, Walker says of the NFL.

In the meantime, if the pace of life at Idaho is not quite at the FBS level, Walker is just fine with that. He left practice one day recently – pedaling a bicycle.

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