“I Want To Be A Cane”: Walker’s Homecoming

Usually, when an event unfolds like the way it did Saturday, there’s hooting and hollering that can be heard down the hallways and all across the Hecht Athletic Center.

This time?

You might not have heard it, but the reaction was no different.

On Saturday, Miami native Issiah Walker let assistant coach Garin Justice know that he planned to sign on with the Hurricanes after entering the NCAA transfer portal. It was important to Walker that he be the one to let the entire staff know his intentions after he told his position coach.

Justice set up the Zoom call where Walker informed the Hurricanes staff.

“He came forward and everyone went crazy on the call,” Justice said. “You could see the overall relief that came over him, when he could just say it out loud, that joining the Hurricanes was what he wanted to do. We were ecstatic.”

Walker said playing for Justice, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the new, up-tempo Miami offense was an appealing aspect that played into his decision.

“I’m really excited. I knew [Coach Justice] from UNLV, so there was a little bit of a relationship there from before,” Walker said. “He’s a very cool guy, and I’m excited to play for him. They were telling me about the offense and pass game, explained how it goes, and I’m excited for it.”

Justice and the Miami staff felt similarly about Walker after he entered the portal in early May.

“You look at it and you ask, ‘What are Issiah’s strengths?’ He’s fast. He’s athletic. He’s a guy that’s going to be able to have the conditioning and endurance to play throughout a full game the same way. Those are all the things you’re looking for in an up-tempo offense,” Justice said. “You throw in the fact that he is powerful, he is a great kid, all those things – it’s icing on the cake.
“His skillset fits perfectly with what we want to do, and what we’re looking for in a tackle position is someone like Issiah.”

Head coach Manny Diaz has continued to vocalize the staff’s emphasis on recruiting south Florida’s tri-county area.

Justice said that with the new offense in place for 2020 and beyond, that focus will only intensify. That process is personified by a player like Walker.

“The traits that you’re looking for, as far as in linemen, are a lot of the traits that south Florida linemen have, traditionally – the fact that they’re really, really athletic guys,” Justice said. “That’s important to us. We want guys who can run and move. From the aspect of guys in south Florida, most of them want to be in Miami. Usually the guys that tend to go elsewhere, they grew up a Canes fan.”

Walker, the top-rated offensive lineman in Dade County and a two-time Miami Herald all-county selection, was selected to play in the 2020 Under Armour All-America Game this past January. He joins Jalen Rivers and Chris Washington to form a talented trio of freshman linemen.

“We had that initial contact when he’s in the portal, and I asked, ‘why are you leaving?’ He said, ‘coach, I want to be home. I want to be a Cane.’

“It’s the program selling itself and home selling itself,” Justice said. “Issiah is a guy that’s going to take a lot of pride in being home. Any time you can get a lot of guys in the building who take pride in being where they’re at – whether they’re from there or not – it always helps. It makes for more success on the field when guys take pride in it.”

More than any other aspect of the decision, Walker said he is most excited to rep his hometown and play in from of his mother, grandmother and family on Saturdays.

“It’s everything to me,” Walker said earlier this week. “Football is everything to me, especially being from south Florida. I’m very excited. As a Miami kid, you want to put on for your city, so I’m excited about this opportunity.”