Herb Walker Jr. has experienced his share of highs and lows at Morgan State.
During his sophomore year, the running back set the school's single-game and single-season rushing records and led the Bears to their first NCAA playoff appearance in 35 years. But the past two years have been frustrating for the Cleveland, Ohio, native, who has played in just four games since his record-breaking 2014 season.
Walker, who earned third-team All-Ohio recognition during his senior season at Cleveland Glenville Ginn Academy, split time with former teammate Lamont Brown III in the Bears' backfield during his freshman season. He first showed his promise during the 2013 season opener, when he gained 56 yards on 10 carries in a 28-12 loss at Army. Walker finished his first collegiate season with 390 rushing yards on 99 carries and scored one touchdown.
Walker became one of the nation's top running backs a year later. During the Bears' 7-6 season, he rushed for a school-record 1,408 yards (14th in the FCS) and scored 15 touchdowns. In his first career start, Walker ran for a school-record 271 yards on 20 carries during a 29-26 loss at Holy Cross. He followed that performance with a 180-yard effort during the Bears' 28-3 win against Bowie State. Walker went exceeded the 200-yard mark again when he rushed for 203 yards on 22 carries during a 24-9 win at Florida A&M.
After leading the Bears to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title and an automatic berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, he closed the season by rushing for 120 yards on 21 carries during a 46-24 loss at Richmond.
"I was in a groove," Walker said. "I had poise and patience and trusted that my offensive line was going to make their blocks. We had a lot of leaders on that team, with [offensive linemen] Clarence Swain and Darren Pinnock and our quarterback, Moses Skillon. All I had to do was just go out there and play."
The college football world took notice of Walker's breakout season. Prior to his junior season, he was named a third-team FCS All-American and was on two national Player of the Year watch lists. But Walker never got the chance to showcase his skills during the 2015 campaign due to academic eligibility issues.
"When they told me that I had to sit out that year, it was just heartbreaking," Walker said. "I called my mom and dad, and they just told me to pick my head up and that it's not the end of the world."
The 5-foot-6, 190-pound running back rededicated himself in the classroom and returned to the field for the Bears' 2016 season opener at Holy Cross. After gaining 22 yards on nine carries, Walker's season was shortened when he suffered a broken bone in his foot during the first quarter of Morgan State's 51-24 loss. He returned Oct. 29 at Norfolk State, picking up 42 yards on eight carries. Walker played sparingly in two other late-season contests, as the Bears finished in a seventh-place tie in the MEAC with Norfolk State and Savannah State with a 3-5 league mark.
"Through the course of his ups and downs, the biggest thing with Herb has been his individual accountability," said second-year Morgan State head coach Fred Farrier. "Coming off that 2014 season, there were high expectations. When he had his setback academically, he did a phenomenal job of digging in in the classroom. He worked hard every day at practice as a scout team player, helping to prepare our players for the teams that they were going to face. Herb was a great teammate."
Walker, who earned his undergraduate degree in sociology from Morgan State in May 2017 and is now taking graduate classes, will begin his redshirt senior season Sept. 2 when Morgan State makes the short trip to local rival Towson. Following a Sept. 9 home game against Albany and a Sept. 16 road trip to Big Ten foe Rutgers, Walker and the Bears will begin their quest to win the MEAC championship when they host North Carolina A&T Sept. 23.
Entering his final season, Walker ranks among the most productive running backs in Morgan State history. Walker, who holds eighth place on the school's all-time rushing list with 1,867 yards, wants to play beyond his senior year.
"Since I was a kid, I've always believed that I could make it to the NFL," Walker said. "That's my dream, and I'm going to stick to it. I want to do it for this university. When I was down, [the people at Morgan] were always there to lift me."
Farrier believes a healthy Walker, who was named to the preseason All-MEAC second team by the league's coaches and sports information directors, could make the difference for the Bears.
"Herb is really talented," Farrier said. "He has great vision and quickness. Herb is very agile, and can make guys miss. To finally get him back at full strength is really a big deal. Hopefully, we can keep him healthy and clear some holes for him so that he can help our team in 2017 similar to the way he did in 2014."
Photo Credit: Lawrence Johnson/Morgan State