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UM’s Walker leaves foes full of dreads

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Toughness is one thing when you’re a running back, but it’s quite another thing when you’re a running back whose long dreadlocks occasionally get ripped from your head during a game.

Such has been the case for Kareem Walker, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound early enrollee freshman back at Michigan. Walker has been in school since January after he graduated from DePaul Catholic in New Jersey and was officially introduced Wednesday during Michigan’s “Signing of the Stars” signing day event.

One of his game highlights on the big screen Wednesday stopped short of showing him being tackled when the defender pulled his long dreadlocks.

“He pulled my jersey, he let the jersey go, and then pulled my hair,” Walker said, laughing.

“I have, like, whole dreads that I’ve got in my room. People pulled them from the root. But I really don’t feel it. The only time I notice it is when I’m like walking off to the sideline I just happen to look down and see it. I got my hair pulled a lot.”

Bryan Murray, an associate head coach at DePaul, said Walker was tackled more than once by people yanking his hair.

“I’d find the dreadlocks on the field,” Murray said. “I’d say to him, ‘You don’t you feel it?’ And he’d say, ‘Nah, I don’t feel it.’ ”

Walker intends to have his dreadlocks yanked this fall, because he fully intends to play. De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson return, but the Wolverines haven’t had a consistent rushing attack in several seasons. Michigan’s last 1,000-yard tailback was Fitz Toussaint in 2011.

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Since his arrival last month, Walker, who is rooming with early enrollee linebacker Devin Bush, has been going through winter conditioning with his new teammates.

“Oh, I’m playing,” Walker said when asked how he hopes to fit in this fall. “I’m working hard. I’m doing good adjusting to the workouts. Just got to learn the playbook, but I’m not riding the bench.”

Walker laughed at his own brashness.

“I’m coming here to be great,” he added. “I ain’t coming here to be sitting on the bench.”

He wants to work this spring on getting his feet higher. Walker, who rushed for 1,517 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, said he missed on some touchdown runs because of he didn’t always run through tackles. And he knows he has to adjust to the speed of the college game.

Walker feels he is capable of being a steady contributor this fall and said he already has the support and backing of the veteran tailbacks.

“I’m a very confident player,” Walker said. “The running backs already on the team, they expect me to do big things. When I’m at workouts and I’m tired and things are not going how I want them to, they’re the first guys that come next to me when we have to run one last sprint. Those are the guys who are pushing me.

“So there’s no hate in the running-back room. Those guys want me to succeed and carry on the legacy because those guys will be leaving after the next season so they definitely want me to come and get the feeling of it and know what it’s like to be in a big game. Those guys are expecting big things of me.”

Walker committed to Ohio State in early 2015 as a junior.

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That year while at a camp in New Jersey, he spoke to former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who was there working the camp for a friend. Walker said Robinson was one of the “celebrities” he most enjoyed talked to Wednesday during the signing day event.

“I told him, ‘Hey, man, you should go to Michigan,’ ” Robinson said this week. “Just put a bug in his ear.”

Robinson knew Walker had already committed to Michigan rival, Ohio State.

“I said, ‘Hey man, you shouldn’t go to that school down south. They’re not good,’ ” Robinson said, cracking his bright smile.

Michigan has seven early enrollees and they were on stage for Wednesday’s event. Robinson said Walker already looks “like a grown man.”

His high school classmates are finishing their senior year, and Walker has been at Michigan taking classes, getting acclimated to college while preparing for spring practice.

“It’s been great,” Walker said. “The kids on the campus, they keep me feeling good about myself. They always say, ‘Hi,’ to me. They’re really nice, help me out when I’m lost and trying to find directions to class. Being on campus has really been a great thing.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

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