University of Miami

Three schools are pushing hardest to flip star Norland tackle. Where does Miami fit in?

UM coach Manny Diaz comments on spring game

Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz comments on the team after the Miami Hurricanes spring game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Saturday, April 20, 2019.
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Miami Hurricanes head coach Manny Diaz comments on the team after the Miami Hurricanes spring game at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Saturday, April 20, 2019.

The South Carolina Gamecocks saw the potential early in Issiah Walker. Now a four-star tackle at Miami Norland, Walker committed to South Carolina in the summer, when he was still unranked by the major recruiting services because the Gamecocks’ early confidence let him feel comfortable with the coaching staff.

In the next couple months following his oral pledge, Walker took a massive step forward. He harnessed his size and athleticism and since the start of 2019, offers have poured in from the likes of Miami Hurricanes, Florida State Seminoles, LSU Tigers, Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions

“He did take a leap, but we all saw it coming because he is putting in the work,” Vikings coach Daryle Heidelburg said Friday in Miami Gardens. “He’s taking it more serious and, as you can see, it’s working out for him. The more serious he’s taking it, the more interested people are in him.”

Now it isn’t just South Carolina keeping in touch with the offensive lineman every day. Walker now hears from LSU, Penn State and the Florida Gators, another longtime suitor, “most every day.” He’s now the No. 138 overall prospect in the composite rankings, so everyone wants to take their shot at flipping the 6-foot-4, 284-pound rising senior.

“Everybody says the same thing,” Walker said. “’Athletic, we want you, high priority.’ They all say the same thing.”

Although Walker pinpointed the Tigers, the Nittany Lions and Florida as the three teams other than the Gamecocks pressing hardest for him, the local prospect might be most important to Miami. The nation’s No. 70 prospect in 247Sports’ own rankings, Walker has a chance to be the highest-rated offensive lineman to come out of Miami-Dade County since Hurricanes offensive lineman Navaughn Donaldson was the nation’s No. 72 overall prospect when he came out of Central in 2017

Walker wore a Miami wristband on his right arm Friday at a weather-interrupted practice at Norland Senior High School, and mentioned offensive line coach Butch Barry and the hometown team are reaching out to him nearly as often as anyone.

“Miami’s been texting me every day,” Walker said. “Coach Barry was also a line coach in the NFL, so that kind of stands out to me. ... That’s a big standout for me.”

Walker became one of the earliest new targets for the current Hurricanes regime when Manny Diaz took over as coach at the end of last year. Miami offered Walker before it even officially announced the hire of Barry, who had previously been an assistant offensive line coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was obvious he was a can’t-miss prospect in South Florida.

The heights Walker has already reached make sense given his pedigree. Issiah Walker Sr., the prospect’s father, was a superstar defensive lineman at American before a catastrophic knee injury nearly forced doctors to amputate his left leg. The elder Walker is now an assistant coach at Doral Academy and raised his son to be a lineman. Instead of teaching his son the basics of throwing and catching to start his football education , the elder Walker taught his son the basics of playing defensive line.

With the Vikings, Heidelburg saw Walker’s athleticism translating best to offensive line, so he slid the lineman to guard and eventually tackle. It took him a few years, but Walker put everything together as a junior and earned second-team all-county honors from the Miami Herald.

“You can just see the strength. You can see the fact that he is making finishing blocks, and that’s what takes you to the next level,” Heidelburg said. “Whatever they call it — being nasty for a lineman or grimy, or whatever the case may be, that it factor of domination and it comes from strength, so as he started maturing and started wanting to dominate people, then that’s where the separation took place.”

Right now, Walker still feels most comfortable with South Carolina — it’s why he committed there in the first place. The coming months, however, will be critical in figuring out for sure where he will sign. He still hasn’t visited LSU or Penn State, so he really doesn’t know yet how seriously he will consider them. Walker will also surely make a return visit with the Hurricanes after visiting twice in the spring, including last month for the scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium in Miami.

The Gamecocks will get the first big swing, though. Walker will take an official visit to Columbia the weekend of May 31.

“I really want to get to the colleges, so I can feel that bond with them,” Walker said. “So once I make a decision I will know.”

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