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Five-star Walter Nolen isn't afraid to be different

Walter Nolen
Walter Nolen

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - Walten Nolen lives only a few miles from Tennessee's campus. The family has overflowing respect for defensive line coach Rodney Garner and the program's direction under Josh Heupel.

Playing for the hometown Vols would have made complete sense. Unless you know much about the five-star defensive tackle.

"I feel like as a person I want to be different in everything I do," Nolen said during the Under Armour All-America Game week. "I don't want nobody to say they compared me to somebody or anything like that. We're trying to build something different. It's just about having a different mindset. Everybody else in this class with me, we just have a different mindset from everybody else."

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Nolen committed to Texas A&M and coach Jimbo Fisher at midfield during pregame of the Auburn matchup in early November. The five-star defensive tackle said the commitment was planned the entire time but it took Nolen and his family at least a little bit to fall in love with College Station.

Nolen's father has said they were shocked the first time they visited Texas A&M and how much they loved it. Then they returned a couple more times only to get even more comfortable. The last time Nolen left, he hinted that one more trip might be needed because he could be ready to make his commitment.

So the family returned for the Auburn game and Nolen made the call. That same day, four-star receiver Chris Marshall pledged to the Aggies as well. Since that weekend, Texas A&M has been an unstoppable force on the recruiting trail and it now boasts the No. 1 class in the country.

"It's going to be a scary sight," Nolen said. "Just this week with the guys I got, it's going to be a scary sight."

When Nolen announced his pledge, Fisher could not hold back his emotion. The Aggies had just beaten Tennessee and Georgia among many others who cycled through Nolen's recruitment and it gave Texas A&M a five-star demolisher up the middle. In a DL group that also included five-stars Travis Shaw and Keithian Alexander, Nolen was consistently the best all week.

"He was happy," Nolen said. "He was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time. You could tell it changed that mood for the game.

"I felt relief. I was relieved finally not thinking about where I'm going to. It helped me sleep nights."

But Tennessee never gave up. The five-star defensive tackle took a couple trips back to Knoxville keeping hope alive for the Vols coaching staff. But the Powell, Tenn., standout finished off his recruitment, wrapped it up and the Aggies were the winner.

Nolen had some concern that people in the surrounding communities might not love his decision, but support is all he's received.

"Tennessee was in there but A&M pulled it out," Nolen said.

"It was pretty hard. At first, I thought people were going to try to judge me in Powell just for my decision. They've been understanding and they've been happy for me wherever I go. It was really just Tennessee and A&M. The message was to just stay home and they told me to think about what I could do if I stayed there."

Nolen was more interested, though, in what he could accomplish away from home. You know, be different.

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