Saturday is homecoming – well, sort of – for extra-large defensive tackle Walter Nolen of Texas A&M.
He will be at Neyland Stadium with the Aggies to take on the Volunteers at 3:30. He is likely to make a fuss, maybe cause trouble, get in the way, clutter up the place, even knock some people down and step on them.
The Texas A&M defensive front dominated the Alabama running attack last Saturday. Subtracting sacks and tackles for losses, the Tide netted 23 yards on the ground. Nolen was a problem.
He played as a high school senior at Powell. He was placed there because the Panthers are organized and competitive and because Powell is in shouting distance of the University of Tennessee.
Somebody with influence had the idea that proximity was progress in the recruiting race.
Some rating systems said Nolen was the No. 1 prep prospect in America. He was 6-4 and 295 and good enough that Jeremy Pruitt and Associates allegedly invested thousands in illegal pursuit.
“Oh no,” said Walter’s father, also named Walter. “Short and simple, it never happened. Go Aggies!”
Keep in mind that I never said it did.
The local newspaper reported that Nolen and his family received significant benefits during an unofficial recruiting visit. Deep, determined research went into that discovery. Assuming it happened, and if cheating didn’t matter, it was not illogical. It just didn’t return dividends.
I have heard a lot of talk but have not seen NCAA documentation that Nolen and his family were provided $2,677 in recruiting inducements from Oct. 8-12, 2020. The News Sentinel report was based on “connecting the dots by cross-referencing the details with an anonymous source who has direct knowledge of the incident.”
That isn’t how we used to do it but …
I believe these tidbits are truths: two rooms at the Crowne Plaza hotel for three nights, $717. Big guys eat a lot. The grocery bill was a dollar short of $1,000. A bowling adventure cost $70. Tab for a trip to the Gatlinburg aquarium was $270. Action at an arcade cost $238. Things enhanced with the Tennessee logo, a little something for the road, were valued at $250.
A captured e-mail from the manager of this production reported funds were running low. She asked if there was a stash of extra cash.
Intriguing story. With UT help, the NCAA accused Pruitt people of more than 200 violations. The coach is stuck with a six-year show-cause penalty. Folks were fired on the spot. Tennessee didn’t grumble much about restrictions and the $8 million fine. Life goes on.
There is some flexibility in Walter Nolen’s homecoming appearances. In 2019, he played at Olive Branch High, outside Memphis, helping his team to the second round of the Mississippi 6A playoffs.
He transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, but didn’t stay long.
He transferred back to the Memphis area, to play at St. Benedict at Auburndale in Cordova. His coach was former Tennessee defensive lineman Marlon Walls.
The next move? Marlon probably knew how to find Powell and how good a coach is Matt Lowe. Matt liked what he got. He said Nolen “has been blessed with size, speed and athleticism.”
There was a bonus. Little brother Warren, only 6-3 and 280, came as a freshman offensive lineman.
Big brother had 93 tackles, 33 for losses, 27 quarterback hurries and 17 sacks. The Nolens helped the Panthers to a 13-2 record and a Class 5A state championship. Big brother looked to be from another world.
Walter received many – as in MANY – scholarship offers. Last under consideration were Texas A&M, Tennessee and Florida. He said he really liked Rodney Garner, defensive line coach of the Volunteers. We cynics thought NIL money might be the determining factor. The player says nah, not so much.
“If I was looking for NIL money, I would have come to UT. The NIL stuff is fun, it’s on the side, but I’m a football player. It’s where my heart is.”
Nolen just happened to be at Kyle Field for the Aggies’ win over then-No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9, 2021. He committed to Texas A&M a month later. He signed in December. He was No. 1 in the highest ranked class in the history of recruiting rankings.
Of course, young Warren is also gone from Powell. He relocated to The Woodlands School in a suburb of Houston.
Big brother played well as an Aggie freshman. He made four starts and played in 10 games. He received the Top Defensive Newcomer award at the team banquet. He is playing very well as a sophomore. Coach Jimbo Fisher has offered high praise.
“He’s disruptive. He can rush the passer as an inside guy. His hands and stuff, he’s getting better and better and better. He’s productive.”
Happy homecoming? I’m not going that far but it is going to happen, whether I like it or not. No point in belaboring what might have been.
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org.