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