UK defensive lineman Deone Walker knows preseason accolades mean nothing

Published 4:31 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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He’s on the watch lists for several of the nation’s most prestigious awards for linemen after his stellar freshman season at Kentucky, but defensive lineman Deone Walker is thinking about more than tackles and quarterback sacks.

“Preseason accolades are not worth anything during the season,” said Walker. “I want to be a captain this year for our whole team. I am trying to stay on top of guys academically, making sure everyone is ready when they come to practice, trying to keep the morale up in our room.”

Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White would like to see Walker make the jump from good player to great player to even elite player this season. The 6-6, 350-pound Walker, who was named a freshman All-American, understands that’s easier said than done.

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“You just have to have a great mindset. I have to remember my motivation and why I love football. Just try to remember who I want to be three years from now and keep working to get there,” Walker said.

Walker started 11 of UK’s 13 games last season and had 40 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. Walker had six tackles against eventual national champion Georgia.

Expectations for Kentucky’s defense are high going into the season, but Walker wants that for himself and his team. The UK defense ranked seventh in passing yards allowed, 12th overall in total yards allowed per game, 13th in scoring defense, 16th in defensive passing efficiency and 49th overall in rushing defense last season. The Cats allowed opponents to convert just 33 percent of the time on third down, the nation’s 23rd-best mark.

“Expectations have been high, but we as defense hold ourselves to the highest standard possible. If you lower the standard, we are going to hold ourselves accountable no matter what,” he said. “We can keep high intensity for four quarters with the depth we have. That’s something all the big teams like Michigan, Georgia do. They have a great D-line and great personnel on their defense and I think we do, too.”

That’s the attitude defensive line coach Anwar Stewart wants Walker to have.

“Deone is elite and can take us as far as he wants but I have to keep him humble. We talk about gratitude and humility in our (position) room all the time,” Stewart said. “The NIL money now does not compare to the money he can make a couple of years from now, I just want to keep pushing him.”

Walker understands why Stewart is hard on him and not prone to throw out praise often.

“He gives respect when it is due. He will tell you when you are doing good and taking steps in the right path,” the sophomore defensive lineman said. “He might not do it publicly, but he is a good guy.

“He has great stories. He has been through a lot, seen a lot and knows a lot. He was one of the main reasons I picked Kentucky. He promised my mom he would make sure I was okay no matter what and I knew that was important to her.”

Kentucky freshman tight end Khamari Anderson was Walker’s teammate at Cass Tech in Detroit.

“I knew what type of guy Deone was. He’s a dog,” Anderson said. “He’s God-gifted. He was born with that talent. Nothing he did last year surprised me, and he will do even more this year.”