Clemson University

Fort Mill's Walker pacing Tech defense

Vance Walker laughed when he heard the question.

As an interior defensive lineman, supposed to open holes or shift so other players can hit the quarterback, how do you lead Georgia Tech in sacks?

"I don't think about it like that," Walker said. "Just got to go get the quarterback."

Walker, a Fort Mill native, suits up for the Yellow Jackets on Saturday when No. 13 Clemson travels to Atlanta. In his third year with the team but first in the starting lineup, Walker's posting the same stats he did in high school -- a squad-high 3.5 sacks among his 16 tackles, all from his defensive tackle spot.

As a senior Yellow Jacket in his previous career (Fort Mill, not Tech), Walker had a preposterous 17.5 sacks, all from the defensive line. He had 2.5 more in a playoff loss to Aiken and another 1.5 in the Shrine Bowl, which got him noticed.

Walker visited Tech and committed on the spot, holding firm even when Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer traveled to Fort Mill a few days later and asked him to be a Hokie. The Jackets thought they had a good idea of what they were getting, and haven't been disappointed.

"He was at practice every day, full-speed all the time, getting after it," former Fort Mill coach Greg Taylor said. "Dream-type thing, what you want every kid to be."

Walker's first step and his ability to get low and use his upper body to shove offensive linemen out of the way got him on the field last year and into a starter's role this year. Walker couldn't really explain how he gets to the quarterback -- he just does it.

"I put on a good 30 pounds, just put everything together this year," he said. "I would say that, my freshman year, not redshirting, I think that helped me out a lot."

Walker hasn't been home too much but has stopped by his former coaches' houses when he's been around. He's keeping tabs on what's been happening at Fort Mill, with rival school Nation Ford opening and some of his old teammates playing for a new school.

"It should be a great rivalry," he said. "Wish we had a rivalry like that, outside of Clover and York."

He's also learning his playbook and hoping to get past the Tigers' line this weekend. Clemson has posted impressive offensive numbers, relying on the strong arm of Cullen Harper and the always-steady presence of tailback James Davis.

The game might mean a little more to Davis, too, considering Atlanta's his hometown. Walker said the fleet runner's a big concern.

"They're very good," he said. "We just have to be focused ... do everything right."

Meanwhile, Walker wished his old Fort Mill teammates and the newbies at Nation Ford luck. He also mentioned if they needed him, he could be there.

"I can come back and suit up if they want me to," he said.

NO. 13 CLEMSON (4-0, 2-0 ACC) AT GEORGIA TECH (1-2, 0-1)

• When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga.

• TV: ABC (cable channel 4 in Rock Hill)

• Tickets: Sold out