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Safety first: Firebirds' Walker-Warren picks NCCU

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STANHOPE — Izaiah Walker-Warren’s collegiate destination was cemented well before the senior put on a display for the Southern Nash High football 
annals in last week’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A championship game against Charlotte Catholic.

Although in a losing effort, Walker-Warren displayed why NCAA Football Championship Subdivision schools had interest in his services on both sides of the ball.

He racked up 18 total tackles in the Firebirds’ first-ever trip to a state final, getting eight solo stops and tallying an interception.

On offense, his 42-yard catch helped set up Southern Nash’s lone touchdown and lead in the third quarter.

A pair of FCS rivals — North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central — came to the forefront for his services. Walker-Warren, the Most Outstanding Player on defense for the Firebirds in last week’s state championship game, wanted to play defense.

However, North Carolina A&T had designs for using him on the offensive side of the ball as a wide receiver.

Thus, Walker-Warren, who played his junior year at Airport High in West Columbia, South Carolina, opted to sign with the Eagles during Wednesday’s National Signing Day festivities in the Southern Nash gym, comparing head coach Trei Oliver’s program to the one put in place by longtime Firebirds sideline general Brian Foster.

“He’s a really good coach, and he really wants to push you,” Walker-Warren said of Oliver. “Just like Foster, it’s not just about football, it’s about life after football.”

Two weeks after returning from South Carolina in April, NCCU recruiters approached Foster, who put Walker-Warren in touch with the Eagles.

“We talked, and they loved me,” Walker-Warren said. “They loved my energy, they loved my enthusiasm. They saw the film, and they saw the ballplayer. They wanted me, and that was it.”

The one-year sojourn to the Palmetto State — where Walker-Warren lived with his mother — wasn’t quite doing it for the 6-foot-1 Walker-Warren. In that sole season, Airport, a 4-A school in South Carolina, posted a 7-4 record and went out in the first round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Firebirds, with state championship ability on offense with Zonovan Knight and Quinton Cooley, were arguably let down by their defense in 2018 — including in the wild second-round defeat to Eastern Alamance.

“I wasn’t feeling South Carolina that much,” Walker-Warren said. “I was missing Coach Foster a lot, so I came back to live with my grandparents in April. I regretted it a lot. We had the offense, but we didn’t have the defense.”

The Eagles, coming off a 4-8 showing in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, plan to utilize Walker-Warren as a free safety. Patience is a desired trait, as his aggressiveness in the state championship game attests.

But Foster didn’t mind aggressive errors by Walker-Warren, as they were indicative of all-out effort.

“If we’re going to make them, which we are, he’s an example,” Foster said. “If he’s going to make them, he’s going to be one of them with nothing left in the tank.”

“A&T wanted me to play receiver,” Walker-Warren said. “I didn’t want to play receiver. I want to be a safety. I have to hit.”

Walker-Warren plans to major in childhood education with designs on becoming a kindergarten teacher.

“I just like being around kids,” he said. “Kids are really my motivation that I should do better. People that know me personally know that I love being around kids. I love joking around with kids, buying them stuff and taking them places. Me being around kids really helps me be disciplined and be in control.”

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