There are high expectations in Atlanta leading up to the start of football season at Georgia Tech.
Although the Yellow Jackets will be a young team at many positions, the defensive line is solid. That's where you'll find Fort Mill's Vance Walker. The 2005 Fort Mill High School graduate is entering his senior season at Georgia Tech. He had 17.5 sacks and 41 tackles-for-loss as a senior at Fort Mill.
He was only 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds then.
The former FMHS Yellow Jacket - no the team's nickname didn't factor into his signing with GT - has bulked up to 300 pounds now and plays defensive tackle for the Ramblin' Wreck.
Walker is one of three seniors on the defensive line along with defensive end Michael Johnson and tackle Darryl Richard. Walker and Johnson were named to the preseason All-ACC football team last month.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says Georgia Tech has "three potential first-round NFL draft picks...and perhaps one of the nation's best [defensive lines], led by tackles Darryl Richard and Vance Walker and end Michael Johnson."
Walker recorded 8.5 sacks last season and was named First Team All-ACC and could be the first Fort Millian to play in the NFL in 10 years. Ernest Dixon played linebacker for six seasons in the NFL after a stellar career at the University of South Carolina. Dixon played for three teams in the NFL - New Orleans, Kansas City and Oakland.
He is modest about his accomplishments and so for now he is focused on Georgia Tech football. He is in Atlanta working with the team in preparation for the Thursday, Aug. 28, season-opener, a home game against Jacksonville State.
"I know I've done well. I'm proud to represent Fort Mill. It means a lot," Walker said by phone last Friday after practice.
"We know we have the ability to be the best D-line in the country, but we know we have to earn it. We practice hard everyday," Walker said.
"There are a lot of freshman and guys who haven't played. We have to lead when things go well and when they aren't going good. I have to teach them to keep their heads up."
Walker and his teammates are adjusting to a new coach this season. Chan Gailey was fired on Nov. 26, 2007, after six seasons at Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson was lured away from Navy two weeks later.
Johnson's resume at Navy includes six consecutive wins over rival Army. Georgia Tech fans hope that will translate to a Yellow Jackets win against their nemesis the Georgia Bulldogs, something Gailey was unable to do in his time in Atlanta. Georgia Tech takes on Georgia, in Athens, on Nov. 29.
"He (coach Johnson) wants to win. It's a big change. Practices are a lot more intense," Walker said. "We get a lot of work done."
Walker said the defense was keeping pace with Johnson's schedule, which required them to learn about 20 new plays a day.
"In the spring we got the foundation down. We have a lot of new terms to learn with the new coaching staff. We'll run some man-to-man and we will blitz," Walker said.
The biggest change though may just be the attitude Johnson has instilled in the team.
Walker told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich, "The thing he said was the truth: A lot of people played for themselves last year, for the defense or the offense."
Because he has stayed so busy with football and classes at Georgia Tech, Walker said he has only been in Fort Mill three times this year. He left for school at the end of July, but said he saw some friends and spent a lot of time with his family before heading to campus.
His parents are Gary and Janet Walker. His older sister, Malia, attends Winthrop University and his brother, Gary, Jr., goes to Coastal Carolina University. His younger sister, Jana, goes to Nation Ford High School.