Maryland defensive lineman Cavon Walker didn't get an invite to the NFL Combine. His name isn't listed high on position rankings ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft. That won't stop Walker from chasing his NFL dream — it just motivates him further.
“I’ve always been a guy who had to fight for everything he wanted, nothing was ever given to me in my life, so I take all of those things as motivation," Walker told HERO Sports. "I enjoy being the underdog because the underdog always comes out on top and everybody loves an underdog story.”
Cavon Walker (pronounced SAY-von Walker), a Washington, D.C. native, saw that underdog story start as a three-star defensive end recruit out of Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington D.C. He was the No. 4 recruit out of D.C, and chose to attend Maryland over offers from Houston, N.C. State and New Mexico.
Walker — a self-described “Mama’s boy to the ‘T’" — said Maryland was his main choice because he's a big hometown and family guy, and wanted to stay close to that family.
"My mom hasn’t missed a home game since I started playing football, so that was the biggest thing for me," he said.
Once at Maryland and playing linebacker for the Terrapins (he played in all 13 games as a freshman in 2013, mostly on special teams), Walker made his name in the weight room, a place he embraced in high school while recovering from a foot injury.
“I always trained myself to just love the weight room and embrace it. Most people go into the weight room thinking like, ‘oh, this is going to be a drag,’ but me, I go in there and I’m ready to get better. So I take that mind-state in and just push through," Walker said. "When I fractured my foot in my junior year of high school, I couldn't practice, I couldn’t do the things that I loved, so I was in the weight room every single day after school…I couldn’t do anything but make myself bigger and better.”
During Walker's sophomore year at Maryland he again suffered an injury two games into the season that confined him to the weight room.
“Same exact injury that happened in my junior year of high school happened in college to my other foot, I fractured my foot," he said. "Not being able to walk right, you take that stuff for granted. You think walking is supposed to be given to you, but when you can’t do something like that, it hurts you a lot, it eats you up."
While recovering from that foot injury, Walker put on about 20 pounds as he was stuck unable to do much on his feet. The coaching staff at Maryland decided the time was right for him to switch from linebacker to the defensive line.
“That’s when they told me to put my hand in the dirt," he said.
Walker put on another 40 pounds, making it a 60-pound swing to bulk up for the defensive line. His pound-packing routine included plenty of time in the weight room, regular trips to the campus cafeteria, and plenty of stops at Chipotle (his favorite restaurant) for his favorite order (a burrito with extra rice, double chicken, tomatoes, corn, extra cheese, lettuce, and two salad dressings).
He got back onto the field in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore, playing in 10 games and registering 7 tackles and a pass breakup. Walker noted the biggest challenge to his position change was getting used to the extra 60 pounds he was carrying.
“It was getting used to the weight and being able to move with it, and taking my skills from linebacker — my quickness was the best part of it,” he said.
As a junior in 2016 Walker earned his first starts — three games — and played in all 13 games, registering 30 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks — a true breakout season for the converted linebacker. He followed it up with 11 starts (13 games total) in 2017, tacking on 38 tackles and 6.0 tackles for loss to his career totals.
Walker had plenty of opportunities to play against elite talent while at Maryland, and he tabbed three players he faced in college who helped him prepare for the next level: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley ("Amazing running back, shifty in the backfield, overall great player.”), Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price ("Very versatile, strong hands.") and Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett (“This past year he would just not let me get a sack on him, he kept throwing the ball away no matter how many times I hit him. It was frustrating, but you’ve got to give it to him, he’s a smart guy.”).
He's building on those experiences now as he trains for Maryland's pro day, where he's looking to excel on the bench press (he's hoping to push up at least 30 reps of the 225 pounds) among other drills. Walker said his versatility on the field is what he hopes NFL scouts will take note of.
“I played every position on the defensive line from nose tackle to 3-tech to defensive end, so I feel like teams can look at my film and see where I would best fit, because I feel like I can do everything," he said.
He acknowledges, too, that he has room to grow.
"The thing I want to to work on the most is my edge play because this past year I feel like I left a lot of plays out there being a defensive end because I was forced out there from being a 3-tech where I feel more comfortable,” he said. "but you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone some time to show people that you can do what they want you to do."
Walker is focused on his goal of making it to the NFL. And while he would love to play for his home-town Redskins (“It’s hard to put in words what that would mean to me"), he's willing to fight for a spot wherever he can make a difference.
A Chipotle nearby wouldn't hurt, though.