Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s offense received a coveted commitment Friday morning when former Indiana running back Ronnie Walker Jr. chose to return home and play for the Cavaliers. Hailing from Hopewell, Va., the 5-11, 208-pound running back strongly considered the Cavaliers in the 2018 recruiting cycle before ultimately choosing the Hoosiers. Since Walker Jr. is not a graduate transfer, he must apply for a hardship waiver in order to participate in the upcoming season. Regardless of his waiver status, Walker Jr. will have two years of eligibility with the Cavaliers.
A three-star recruit coming out of Hopewell High School south of Richmond, Walker Jr. struggled to see the field much in his first two years at Indiana. Over the course of his two years, Walker Jr. only managed 229 yards on 59 carries and 2 touchdowns, both of which came his freshman year. This season, he displayed an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield — a threat the Cavaliers desperately need — posting 12 catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.
“He adds a dynamic element as a ball carrier that allows big plays,” Mendenhall said. “We now have the options to hand off the football, throw the football, but more importantly have a threat from our backfield that poses a real problem for defenses to consider.”
With rising senior tailbacks PK Kier and Lamont Atkins off the squad, the Cavaliers were thin at running back prior to Walker Jr’s transfer with only two on the roster. Now, sophomore Wayne Taulapapa and freshman Mike Hollins will return to an offense that should see three backs touch the ball over the course of the season.
While Taulapapa displayed strength running between the tackles and Hollins showed bounce to get to the outside, neither back was a truly viable passing option out of the backfield. With Walker Jr. on board, the whole dynamic of the offense is likely change.
With the departure of senior quarterback Bryce Perkins, the engine of the Cavaliers’ running game will no longer be present next season. In the 2019 season, Perkins led the team in rushing yards, with Taulapapa and Hollins merely supporting pieces. This season, however, the offense has the opportunity to employ a three-headed monster that will give defenses problems.
Returning to Virginia to be closer to his family was a key factor in the decision making process for Walker Jr.
“U.Va. is close to home — that was important to me,” Walker Jr. said. “I love the family feel of the program.”
With rising sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong set to take the reins from Perkins this upcoming season, having a veteran like Walker Jr. in the backfield will help a lot, especially considering the cancellation of spring practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“U.Va. is getting someone who will work as hard as humanly possible and be a leader and role model on and off the field,” Walker Jr. said.
Now that Mendenhall’s staff has landed Walker, their attention turns to securing running back TreVeyon Henderson, Walker’s younger brother in the class of 2021. While Henderson is a commit to Ohio State at the moment, the Cavaliers still have a chance at convincing the 2020 Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year to stay in the Commonwealth. The five-star recruit is the second-highest-rated running back in his class and 17th-highest-rated nationally.