STATE COLLEGE - Von Walker has gone from run-on to family.
Walker came to Penn State from nearby Central Mountain High School as part of Bill O'Brien's "run-on" program last year when NCAA scholarship limitations forced the Nittany Lions to explore the small towns of Pennsylvania more than before with non-scholarship players.
Now, with those sanctions easing and new coach James Franklin assembling what some recruiting services are calling the No. 1 class in the country for 2015 at this point, Walker is still a part of this program, part of what Franklin called the family.
That's still important, because for all that hyped incoming talent, those players won't be here for awhile and there's still a cut-down roster in effect for 2014. Walker impressed O'Brien last year enough to return punts and play special teams as one of 13 true freshmen to play.
Under Franklin, Walker may still do much of the same, though he's now doing so as an outside linebacker instead of safety after meetings with the new staff.
"They thought it was a good decision for me," said Walker after Saturday's Blue-White scrimmage at Beaver Stadium. "They liked my aggressiveness. I like to hit. I think it's a good move."
Like any walk-on, Walker played where he could last fall. He finished second on the team in punt and kickoff returns, taking six kicks for 99 yards and four punts for 19 yards. He also made three special teams tackles. On offense, Walker carried seven times for 18 yards, including four times against Kent State.
That's sort of how Walker's high school career went, where he played offense and defense, quarterback and running back and became one of the most prolific area players in recent years. While the college atmosphere compares little to high school, the support Walker has received from being close to home does.
There were plenty of Walker's No. 25 jerseys in and around Beaver Stadium Saturday. Though no doubt many of those were bought for recent tailback Silas Redd or school legend Curt Warner, it's reminder that even a 5-foot-11, 207-pounder trying to add linebacker weight can have followers.
"It's really cool. Growing up, my family always joked about going here when I was little, and now we are here and it's surreal," said Walker. "This interview, I'd have never guessed it. The autograph signing today, there were great faces I recognized showing me love from Lock Haven. It's a great position for me. I'm really glad and I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Even though Franklin got a verbal commitment via Twitter Saturday from touted high school junior defensive line recruit Adam McLean, it's still players like Walker and Cole Chiappialle, who scored two touchdowns Saturday, who have the bigger say in the coach's first year with Penn State. They were brought here to fill a void, and 2014 is their chance to further establish themselves before more scholarship players arrive.
"That's what's great about being at a state school like Penn State. You're going to have a really strong run-on, walk-on program, whatever you call it. But once they join the family, they are part of the family and they're just as important as the head coach," said Franklin. "They are just as important as the starting quarterback. We all have different roles, but every role is important. They are valued and they are appreciated, every single one of them."
Walker said he hadn't spent much one-on-one time yet with Franklin, just three months into the job, but more with defensive coaches Bob Shoop and Brent Pry. But Franklin has still made himself a presence with an energy the players like, Walker said.
"Usually we're very busy, but when we go to the HUB, he's there. Sometimes he even goes to our class," said Walker. "He's always involving himself in our lives, which is nice."
Just like a family member might.
Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at email@example.com.