Junior running back Ronnie Walker Jr.’s second appeal for an immediate eligibility waiver has been cleared by the NCAA after Walker’s transfer from Indiana to Virginia in April. The Hopewell, Va. native, who has two years of eligibility remaining, originally had his immediate eligibility waiver denied prior to the season’s commencement. Walker Jr. will be eligible to play for the Cavaliers against Wake Forest Saturday.
“We are excited for Ronnie that his request for a waiver to play this season was approved and we look forward to having him compete starting this weekend,” Coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
Walker Jr. never truly found his role during his two seasons in the Hoosiers backfield. In his freshman season, the back only touched the ball 32 times for 141 yards and two scores. The following year, Walker Jr. saw his rushing yards drop, tallying 80 yards to go with 112 receiving yards. However, in a Cavalier offense that has often prioritized the run this season, Walker Jr. should be able to carve out a solid role in the backfield with fellow running backs in junior Wayne Taulapapa and Towson graduate transfer Shane Simpson.
It will be interesting to see Mendenhall’s plan of incorporation for Walker Jr. in the offense, as Taulapapa and Simpson have both had great success out of the backfield in 2020, combining for 341 yards in 3 games. The staff must also factor in the presence of sophomore quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who has displayed a willingness to run. Given the explosiveness of Walker Jr. and Simpson, this could provide Virginia the opportunity to implement an option package more frequently.
In Walker Jr.'s sophomore season with the Hoosiers, the offense used him as more of a dual threat running back as opposed to a three-down back, as he caught 12 passes to 27 carries. It is possible that Mendenhall and offensive coordinator Robert Anae will try to use him in a similar manner, working short outlet passes and screens into the offense, which would offer Armstrong simple checkdown plays when needed.
Virginia understands they cannot throw the ball all game to win, having attempted 64 passes in a lackluster offensive performance against NC State. The Cavaliers’ identity remains in the defense and run game, and Walker Jr. should add another punch to an already solid ground game.
The Cavaliers face Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. Saturday. Kick-off is set for 4 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on the ACC Network.