Working on a two-minute drill in the August heat a few days before his first college start can be as stressful as a game situation for an offensive lineman, and Rasheed Walker expected it might be.
There are 90 seconds on the clock. Trailing by 3 points. Music blaring. Sideline buzzing. They need a touchdown or a to get into field goal range.
The intensity is piquing.
Walker hasn’t been around Happy Valley all that long, but he knows these are the situations on the practice field that make or break young players. As the snaps pass and he staves off pass rushers and throws blocks and moves on to the next play, something occurs to him. The proverbial light came on.
“We were moving really fast. And I can honestly say, if I were in that same situation in the spring (during a practice), I’d have been freaking out, nervous,” Penn State’s freshman left tackle said. “But I was just calm; I wasn’t even breathing hard.
“We scored, and I was like, ‘Dang, that wasn’t even that hard.’ I can really do this.”
Good reviews: While Penn State’s offensive line has been up and down to start the season, Walker’s efforts through the first three games have drawn cautiously optimistic reviews from the coaching staff.
But, they also understand Walker could be the blindside protector for quarterback Sean Clifford they’ve been waiting years for the chance to develop.
“He’s growing up and growing up fast,” head coach James Franklin said. “I think the fact that we haven’t talked about him a whole lot is a good thing typically with the offensive lineman.”
The progression to the starting role was a rapid one for Walker, all things considered. While Franklin repeatedly said last season that Walker was close to being game-ready as a true freshman, he spent most of the year learning behind starter Ryan Bates.
Walker played in four games in 2018, and he admits it was more a “cool experience” than one that helped prepare him for what he saw in his first three games this season.
“Leading up to the Idaho game, I was nervous,” Walker said. “I was just really excited to see how I’d play in front of a big crowd and being in a real college football game, starting. But after the first drive of that game, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be at. It was a real confidence booster for me. After that, I was able to play more free and play like I usually play.”
Fitting in quickly: It surprised Walker how quickly he felt he fit in on the line.
Last season was his first as a left tackle. A defensive player exclusively until his sophomore season in high school, the quick-footed, 324-pounder from Waldorf, Maryland, moved to right tackle at North Point High school to protect the blindside of a left-handed quarterback. He worked in the offseason, during summers, with a personal coach to learn the intricacies of playing right tackle, then figured he’d have to take the time to learn the left side the same way in college.
Turns out, he was wrong.
“It wasn’t really that much of a struggle, because I actually am left-handed,” Walker said. “I really feel like getting used to playing on the right side in high school was harder than getting used to playing on the left side in college, because my left side is more dominant. The left side was more comfortable for me.
“It became natural for me to play that spot.”
Playing close to home on Friday: Now, Walker gets to start his first career Big Ten game at Maryland on Friday, a 30-minute drive from his childhood home and against a slew of friends he played against in high school and met on the recruiting trail.
Franklin insists this is only the beginning for a player he said has plenty of potential to get even better.
“(He is) having to block some of the best big athletes day-in and day-out, week-in and week-out in practice as well as in the games, and he’s doing a good job,” Franklin said. “So we’re pleased with him, but we’ve got to keep building his confidence and keep building his fundamentals and techniques.”