BOISE — Tyler Horton is back home in Fresno rehabbing his knee and hoping to continue his football career at some point.
He’s got a message to Boise State fans and those of other schools on the Broncos’ schedule this fall: Look out for No. 15.
Horton, the two-time first team All-Mountain West selection, predicts the Broncos won’t see any kind of drop off with Jalen Walker takes his spot in the starting lineup.
“He’s a guy to remember, I’ll tell you that right now,” Horton told the Idaho Press in a phone conversation Thursday. “He’s going to make a lot of plays this year. He’s a guy that is going to make a lot of noise and a lot of plays.”
Walker, a redshirt junior, has been the backup to Horton in each of the past two seasons. He’s appeared in 22 games, mostly on special teams, but did start three games at corner when Horton was injured — the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon in 2017 and at Oklahoma State and Wyoming last year.
He recovered a fumble, had three tackles and broke up a pass while seeing backup action in last year’s season opener against Troy, and recovered a fumble and had four tackles against Wyoming. He totaled 19 tackles, two pass break-ups and two fumble recoveries in 2018.
“I was always taught to be ready when your number is called,” said Walker, who met with the media Thursday for the first time in his three-plus years on campus. “I just reminded myself every week and every game to stay focused and stay in the playbook because you never know when your name is going to be called. And my name was called and I was prepared. I was ready.”
Walker admits making his first career start against Oregon as a redshirt freshman was a surreal experience.
“The first drive, I was like ‘OK, this is what this is like,” Walker said. “It was good.”
The experience on the road at Oklahoma State last year was memorable as well.
“That was crazy with the fans hitting the walls with the paddles and stuff like that,” Walker said. “I was like, ‘I like this. I like this pressure.’ I like playing in environments like that, big games like that. It reminds me to focus.”
Walker, said by teammates to be one of the funniest players on the team, also can be one of the most vocal.
“He’s always talking smack to somebody,” nickel Kekaula Kaniho said. “But it brings good energy to the locker room and we feed off it. We love it.”
Walker didn’t dispute the claim.
“I have a little mouthpiece on me. Especially if things are going my way, oh yeah, you’re going to hear me,” Walker said with a laugh. “You’re going to most definitely hear me.”
But his trash talking comes with confidence that he’ll get the job done.
“You can’t talk one play and then the next play get beat,” Walker said.
Walker credits his relationship with Horton as a big reason for his success. For three years he watched how Horton practiced, studied him in the film room and did all he could to emulate his game.
And that tutelage has continued even as Horton has moved on from Boise State. Walker has called Horton with questions during summer workouts and the early part of fall camp, and Horton has been there to provide advice and guidance.
“I have big shoes to fill,” Walker said. “Tyler was a ball hawk, and to this day I still talk to him. After practice, every other day, because I know he’s busy, but I give him a phone call and tell him about things I messed up on and things I did good on and he explains to me from his point of view and helps with my technique, plays, how to guard certain things.”
Walker said his ‘technique’ was the main thing he learned from Horton over the years.
“I still help him out as much as I can,” Horton said. “Tips for the film room, on the field, whatever I can do. I remind him the whole mindset about camp. It’s a grind and you have to have a purpose and be prepared.”
As for what he thinks about Walker as a player?
“He’s the type of guy that’s going to compete,” Horton said. “You have to step in big games and big moments and he was ready. We found that out. He was ready. So he’ll be ready again this year.
“It’s going to be the first time a lot of people will see him, especially other teams, so of course they will attack him because you have Avery Williams on the other side and they know what Avery can do. But he’ll be ready.”
Walker would have no problem if teams targeted him.
“I hope they challenge me,” Walker said. “I’m ready for that.”
Horton started 39 games for the Broncos during his four-year career and had two 80-plus yard interception returns for touchdowns. He also had two fumble returns for touchdowns last season. He was one of the most experienced players on Boise State’s defense, and he’s now likely to be replaced in the lineup by one of the most inexperienced.
But Walker has proven to be capable of stepping in when called upon, and his teammates — past and present — know he’ll be up for the task.
“All those games he got his starts in and his playing time against weren’t the easy opponents,” Williams said. “They were all the toughest games, and he showed us that he can compete with those big time receivers and those really athletic receivers. That’s a guy you really have to look at this year because he’s going to give it all.”
Fittingly, the season opener will be another big game for Walker when the Broncos travel to Jacksonville, Florida, to play Florida State. Assuming he starts, it will be his third start against a Power Five opponent among four career starts.
“I’m really excited,” Walker said. “I put in the work. That’s all I can say. I put in the work and I’m ready for it.”