Football recruiting: Osceola four-star DL John Walker commits to UCF

Jon Santucci
The Daytona Beach News-Journal
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DAVENPORT – Not only is Osceola senior defensive lineman John Walker an outstanding football player, but it turns out he’s also pretty good at keeping a secret.

Walker, the No. 1 defensive lineman in the state on the USA Today Florida Network top 100, announced his commitment to the University of Central Florida on Thursday night. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Walker is the highest rated player to commit to UCF since 2000, according to the 247Sports composite.

Walker was one of three Osceola players to announce his decision Thursday. Defensive lineman Derrick LeBlanc committed to Oklahoma and cornerback Ja’Keem Jackson committed to Florida.

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While Walker made his announcement Thursday, the decision was finalized much earlier.

“I silently committed three months ago,” Walker said. “I just made sure I stuck with UCF. I just felt like that was home.

“I lived here my whole life. I want to do it for my city.”

Rated a four-star recruit and the No. 12 overall player in the state by the USA Today Florida Network, Walker had 77 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss and 13 sacks when he earned second-team all-state honors in 2021.

Walker also had Michigan, Ohio State, Miami and Florida as finalists.

Walker’s commitment is obviously is a huge endorsement for UCF second-year coach Gus Malzahn and his staff’s recruitment of the state.

Eight of the top 22 all-time UCF commits since 2000 according to 247Sports either signed with UCF in the class of 2022 (cornerback Nikai Martinez, wide receiver Quan Lee, cornerback Ja’Cari Henderson) or are committed in 2023 (Walker, twin linebackers Andrew and Michael Harris). All eight are in-state players, almost all coming from high schools within 100 miles of UCF’s campus.

“They have a really good plan for me,” Walker said. “We’re going to the Big 12. We’re going to make some big things. Coach Gus and everything like that, we’re going to make some big moves and we’re going to make a run for it.”

LeBlanc, the No. 17 player on the USA Today Florida Network top 100, picked Oklahoma over Florida and Penn State.

“I knew the staff since I was in eighth grade,” LeBlanc said. “I was going to commit to them when they were at Clemson. It was just the best decision for me to make.”

LeBlanc had 38 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks last fall and was a third-team all-state selection.

The 6-foot-4, 270-pound LeBlanc becomes the third Florida player to commit to Oklahoma this summer, joining Tampa Catholic linebacker Lewis Carter and Rickards wide receiver Keyon Brown.

LeBlanc said it wasn’t easy telling Florida coaches he was heading to Oklahoma.

“They told me it’s all love,” LeBlanc said. “But they said. ‘It’s not over.’ That’s what they kept telling me.”

Florida did end up getting a commitment from one Osceola’s talented trio when Jackson verbally committed. He is the 10th in-state player to commit to play for the Gators and the sixth to commit since June 21.

Jackson said cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond was very instrumental in his decision.

“He hit me up every day,” Jackson said. “He hit my parents up almost every day. We talked every day, literally every day. He also has a good resume of producing good DBs.

“He really believes in development like he always tells me. I have a good chance.”

The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Jackson is rated the No. 19 cornerback in the nation and the No. 37 player in the state on the 247Sports composite.

Jackson had a handful of Power 5 offers before the spring but saw his recruitment take off on May 3 when both Georgia and Alabama offered. The next day, Florida State and Auburn offered. By the end of May, he also was being recruited by South Carolina, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa and others.

Jackson was a wide receiver before switching to defensive back late in the season. He finished 2021 with a team-best 36 catches for 548 yards and four touchdowns on offense to go along with nine tackles, three interceptions and one pass break up.  

“I’m really excited,” Jackson said. “(Raymond) always tells me he’s going to change my life and help me chase my dreams.”

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