High school football: Maturity set Walker apart
Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 26, 2021
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Salisbury linebacker Jalon Walker is preparing for the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando, so it may be the least surprising announcement of the century that he repeats as Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year.
“Jalon is one of a kind and I’ve been fortunate to coach him and fortunate to know him,” Salisbury head coach Brian Hinson said. “At the high school level, you’re very lucky if you get one like Jalon in a lifetime. When your best player is one of the best students in the school and one of the hardest workers in the school, you count your blessings.”
If you’re wondering if anyone has ever been recognized as the county’s top defender two years in a row, it has happened before, but not since the 1970s. North Rowan linebacker Brent Chambers won back-to-back in 1977-78, while Salisbury defensive lineman Danny Winecoff was honored in 1973-74.
Unless you’ve been marooned on an island somewhere, you’re aware that Walker, a Georgia recruit, is a role model for all student-athletes locally and a national figure on the football field.
He has been named the Central Carolina Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches the last two seasons. He won the WSOC-TV Super 22 Award as the area’s top player.
Long, fast and smart at 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Walker is a consensus top-50 player nationally and, while he didn’t win it, he was a finalist for the Butkus Award for high schoolers, which means he was rated one of the top six linebackers in the country.
When many of the state’s best gathered in Gaffney, S.C., for the Carolina Bowl Senior Showcase, a replacement for the canceled Shrine Bowl, Walker continued to stand out. He played defensive end, inside linebacker and outside linebacker and helped North Carolina post a convincing 34-7 win over South Carolina. He was named defensive MVP.
Walker’s junior year included 19 tackles for loss and eight sacks and such accolades as Gatorade Football Player of the Year for North Carolina and Rowan County Athlete of the Year.
There are a lot of different numbers out there right now as far as how many tackles Walker made as a senior and how many tackles for loss and how many sacks. Some of them are probably low, while some are probably on the high side.
He definitely had more than his share of tackles, TFLs and sacks, plus at least two forced fumbles, two safeties, three blocked kicks and quite a few pass breakups.
He scored five touchdowns. In the North Rowan game, he scored on a fumble recovery, a touchdown catch and by breaking a long run on a faked punt.
He did what he did as far as the defensive stats with every opponent game-planning to stay as far away from him as possible.
“Every snap for every team we played started out with, ‘Where is No. 11?'” Hinson said. “That was the first consideration for everyone. See where Jalon is and try to go somewhere else.”
Mike Herndon has wrapped up his teaching career at Salisbury, but he had the joy of coordinating a Salisbury defense that was dominant the first 11 games of the season and posted eight shutouts.
“We always sent Jalon to the field side (wide side),” Herndon said. “That took two-thirds of the field away from our opponent and meant we only had to defend the remaining third. Jalon is strong and fast, but his biggest asset is he’s a coach on the field. He could make all the calls and he could see things and make adjustments. He made our job easy.”
Walker is the son of a football coach, Catawba head man Curtis Walker, so his advanced grasp of X’s and O’s isn’t surprising.
Salisbury had more defensive standouts besides Walker.
Basically, the entire first-team defensive unit was honored as All-Central Carolina Conference. Nick Hall was the CCC Lineman of the Year, while Jaden Gaither was arguably the county’s second-best linebacker.
“It was a very special defense,” Herndon said. “Our guys would get ticked off if they gave up a pass completion. They’d get ticked off if someone ran the ball for 2 yards on them. That special defense started with Jalon. He was the key to all of it. He’s just different from most high school kids. His work ethic was different, and so was his maturity level.”
Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year
1968 — Walter Whitley LB, North
1969 — Willie Lowe DL, East
1970 — Robert Pulliam DL, Boyden
1971 — John O’Neal DL, Salisbury
1972 — Rochelle Lowe LB, East
1973 — Danny Winecoff DL, Salisbury
1974 — Danny Winecoff DL, Salisbury
1975 — Ronnie Wood DB, Salisbury; Steve Lee DL, South
1976 — Keith James DL, Salisbury; Steve Thacker DL, North
1977 — Brent Chambers LB, North
1978 — Brent Chambers LB, North
1979 — David Sides DB, South
1980 — Alonzo Shropshire DL, Salisbury
1981 — Jeff Barringer DL, South
1982 — L.C. Lynch DL, West
1983 — Sam Miller LB, North
1984 — Todd Barnhardt LB, South
1985 — Antione Sifford DB, North
1986 — Tim Bell DB, South
1987 — Chris Drye LB, South
1988 — Tim Blakeney LB, Salisbury
1989 — Marlon Connor DL, South
1990 — Ernest Huntley DL, East
1991 — Jeff Morris LB, East
1992 — Fred Lewis LB, North
1993 — Greg Jones LB, East
1994 — Jeff Kerr LB, South
1995 —Calvin Everhart DB, Salisbury
1996 — Jeff Chambers DL, North
1997 — Greg Yeldell LB, North
1998 — Adam Horton LB, East
1999 — Danny Misenheimer DL, East
2000 — James Francis LB, West
2001 — Brad Lanning DB, South
2002 — Kenny Brown DL, North
2003 — Don Ambers LB, Salisbury
2004 — Harry Howard LB, Salisbury
2005 — Julian Samolu LB, West; Sa’D Thompson LB, North
2006 — Tristan Dorty DL, West
2007 — Justin Avery DB, West
2008 — Chris Smith DL, West; Pierre Jimenez LB, Salisbury
2009 — Eli Goodson DL, West
2010 — Eric Cowan DB, West
2011 — Kavari Hillie LB, Salisbury
2012 — Logan Stoodley LB, West
2013 — Xavier Robinson LB, North
2014 — Shane Parker DL, North
2015 — Ryan Bearden LB, Carson
2016 — LJ Robinson LB, West, Zion DeBose, DL, North
2017 — Devin Turner DL, West
2018 — Christian Bennett LB, East
2019 — Jabril Norman LB, Salisbury
2021SP — Jalon Walker LB, Salisbury
2021 — Jalon Walker LB, Salisbury