Many a happy return for Walker

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2012

SALISBURY — The first thing Curtis Walker did when he reached the podium was move the microphone out his way.
“I don’t need that,” he said.
His strong, confident voice could be heard quite clearly in a room full of well-wishers.
The former Catawba All-American and assistant who coached the country’s top-ranked Division II defense during the 2001 season, was introduced as Catawba’s new head football coach at a press conference Wednesday in the Hayes Field House. He looked around the room at all the familiar smiles and his eyes sparkled.
“I’m glad to be home, I promise you that,” Walker said. “So many welcoming faces, so many great people, so many great associations. I’m still excited about these people in my life.”
He mentioned names like Dick Williams, Sam Moir, David Bennett and Jim Gantt, “all successful coaches who were able to shape me. I didn’t ask a lot of questions because I didn’t have to. I learned just by listening.”
Now the Catawba football world will listen to Walker as he takes over for Chip Hester, who resigned after a 4-7 season and is now Director of Athletic Development.
Walker, an All-American linebacker here from 1989-92, coached under Bennett through NCAA playoff years of 1999 through 2001, then followed Bennett to Coastal Carolina to help start that FCS program. Last season, he was the defensive coordinator at Western Carolina before returning to the South Atlantic Conference.
Walker wanted to get something straight right away.
“I don’t know if we can be 11-0 in our first year. I’m not making any promises. I don’t dare do that,” he said, drawing some chuckles. “But I promise we’ll give our effort.”
He relayed that message to the players when they met later in the day.
“I’m going to give them my vision and the priorities of the program and give them a chance to jump on board,” he said.
Why wouldn’t they? Walker was one of the greatest defensive players in school history and his pride in the school is obvious. He once recorded 25 tackles in a game. Any recruits who are linebackers should be salivating. He turned out stars like Shawn McBride, Shawn Sanders, Darris Morris and Todd McComb, to name a few.
“A 4-2-5 (defense), that’s what my liking is,” Walker said. “I don’t know how it will work in this league. We’ll put the best personnel on the field.”
Recruiting was a main topic at the press conference. But Walker has been a recruiting coordinator and apparently knows the ins and outs of who to bring in — and more importantly — who to listen to.
“We want to make sure he’s a student athlete and make sure he’s got good character,” Walker said. “We can check that in many ways.”
For Walker, that might be talking to the janitor.
“The principal is going to tell me great things,” Walker pointed out. “The teachers and administrators are going to tell me great things. But I know a guy down the hall just sweeping around may hear something. He hears things — this guy isn’t doing everything he needs to do. So we’re going to check that character out.”
He glanced over at Radell Lockhart, one of his defensive line stars at Catawba during the glory days, who had some NFL tryouts and played in preseason games with the New York Giants.
“He was very quiet back then,” Walker grinned. “I don’t know if he has changed any. But he’s the type of man we want in our program.”
Walker noted he didn’t arrive at Western Carolina until Jan 4 but coming here a month earlier is big.
“We can still get quality players,” he said. “I’m way ahead of the game. I think we have time.”
Asked about his assistants, Walker said they were already here.
“The staff has worked just like someone was in place,” he said. “I’m excited to be with these guys and talk to them about where we are in recruiting.”
And he is going to let his assistants coach. He has always been defensive-minded, so, of course, he was asked about his offensive intentions.
“I don’t want to be the offensive coordinator,” Walker said. “I don’t want to be defensive coordinator. I will be knowledgeable enough on offense, defense and special teams to contribute suggestions.”
Drawing laughter again, he added, “Sometimes, the head coach heads up the special teams because he doesn’t have anything else to do.”
President Brien Lewis certainly seems elated with Walker.
“He brings passion, intensity and fire, not just on the football field but in shaping and leading young men,” Lewis said. “He talks about students reaching their highest potential. I know Curtis will deliver on that.”
And he’ll deliver it in a place he wants to be. His wife, Sheka, is a Rowan native and his two sons, Jalon and Curtis Jr., will get to attend school here.
“Our two boys will be raised in these values and these ethics,” Walker said. “I’m coming home.”