CHARLOTTE, N.C. – DeMarcus Walker made a few big statements at the ACC Football Kickoff on Friday.
And that’s to say nothing of the crisp, paisley bow tie he wore during his interview session.
One of the FSU’s top returning defenders and the top candidate to fill the leadership shoes left by cornerback Jalen Ramsey’s departure, Walker wasted no time Friday laying out his expectations.
“I consider myself the best defensive end in the country,” Walker said.
Not much room for interpretation there.
It should be noted that Walker’s proclamation came during a longer thought about Florida State and Clemson, and each school’s place in the college football landscape.
Walker also believes that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and FSU running back Dalvin Cook are the best in the nation at what they do, too.
But when asked to elaborate, Walker allowed that there are some great defensive ends in college football, including a few in the ACC. He just believes his work ethic puts him over the top.
“I work my tail off every week, day in, day out,” he said. “If you work your behind off at your own craft, why would you put somebody else in front of you? It’s just a confidence thing.”
He’s got reason to feel so confident. Walker last season was a revelation for Florida State, emerging as one of the program’s most productive pass rushers in several years.
The Jacksonville native finished with 10.5 sacks – the first FSU defender to reach double-digit sacks since 2012 – and 15.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles, a blocked field goal attempt and an interception.
The numbers are impressive on their own, but made even more so when considering the late-season surge that Walker used to achieve them. Starting with the Seminoles’ Oct. 31 win over Syracuse, Walker recorded 39 of his 58 tackles over FSU’s last six games.
That includes career performances in a 27-2 win at Florida (nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, blocked kick) and in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Houston (13 tackles, interception).
And Walker has no plans on slowing down.
“You guys haven’t seen nothing yet,” he said. “I’ve been working. I mean that. You guys are going to see a huge leap.”
As he continued in what was a nearly hour-long Q&A session, Walker had some things to say about his defensive teammates, too.
The Seminoles in 2015 finished 19th nationally in total defense, allowed only 17.5 points per game and lost six starters – including an All-American defensive back in Ramsey – to graduation or the NFL draft.
And yet Walker believes this year’s group can be even better.
“I can see this defense being the best defense FSU ever had,” Walker said. “And that’s big words.”
Walker would know a thing or two about it. As a freshman in 2013, Walker played on one of the best defenses FSU has ever had, a unit that won a national title and saw nine of 11 starters drafted into the NFL.
And, as one former Seminole great reminded Walker this summer, there were some mighty tough FSU defenses in the 1980s and 90s, too.
“I met (Darnell) Dockett for the first time over the summer camp. … I told him the 2013 defense was the best defense FSU has ever had and we all got in an argument with him,” Walker said with a smile. “He almost bit my head off.”
Whether this year’s Seminoles reach those previous heights remains to be seen. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, for his part said the defense “has a chance to be a good one,” but that he’d have to wait and see before declaring it among the greats.
Still, he likes that his star defensive end feels that way.
“I do,” Fisher said, “because if you don’t think it, you aren’t going to do it. … I like his perspective on things.”
After his strong finish a year ago, Walker briefly flirted with the NFL draft before opting to return for his senior season.
Walker began his career with both an ACC and national championship, and he said Friday that he wants to finish how he started.
With that in mind, Walker is determined to build on the foundation he laid in 2015.
He said he’s altered his diet and sleep patterns while working through a laundry list of on-field technique improvements.
He’s also made sure to include Florida State’s incoming freshmen in his offseason regimen, a tip he picked up from Dockett.
“They accept me as their leader,” Walker said. “…The 2013 defense, Telvin spoke (and) everybody listened. This year, when I speak, everyone listens.”