According to Judge linebacker Zack McKown, teammate Keenyn Walker was originally ticketed to be a JV player at the start of last season.
Umm, yeah, he was a little better than that.
Walker came up with one interception and nearly had another in Judge's season-opening win over North Sanpete, and that was all it took for his teammates and coaches to figure out that this kid had star potential.
"He played one half," said McKown, "and it was like, 'He's got to be a varsity player.'"
Walker continued to shine from that moment through the end of last season, which concluded when Judge fell to Logan in the Class 3A championship game, and the senior-to-be is one of several key returning components on a Judge team that hopes to accomplish even more this fall.
"He's a great, big kid," coach James Cordova said when asked to describe Walker's strengths at cornerback. "You can't really go over him. He's 6-foot-2. He's got a 185-pound frame. He's got great size, and he's a great athlete. His ability to see and adjust to the ball is amazing."
While Walker also starred at wide receiver last fall and will do so again this fall, it was his ability to see and adjust to the ball on defense that really wowed prep fans not to mention himself.
He more-or-less knew what his role would on offense before last season, but that wasn't the case defensively.
"I surprised myself on the defensive side of the ball," he said.
Even after Walker began to become a known commodity last fall, he still continued to come up with pick after pick, and when all was said and done, Walker finished with 11 interceptions to lead the entire state.
"A kid getting more than four interceptions is good," pointed out Cordova. "Not that four interceptions is in any way, shape or form the norm, but four interceptions is good ... 11 interceptions is unbelievable. It's something you can't write.
"It's interesting because even after people knew what he was capable of, they still went after him, and he had some interceptions that were amazing. He had an interception (against Union) where he tipped the ball, spun around, caught the ball and returned it for 45 yards."
Plays like that have caught the attention of college recruiters. While he hasn't yet received any official offers, he said that almost every Pac-10 school except for USC has shown interest in him. A three-star recruit according to rivals.com, Walker said he believes he's close to receiving a formal offer from Washington.
However, he's also considering playing collegiate baseball, and it could be a while before he sorts out his future.
In the meantime, McKown and Co. are just glad that they'll have his shutdown-corner abilities on their team this fall.
"To know that when they throw the ball to Keenyn, it's like, 'Oh, it's ours' at the worst, it's incomplete, and usually it's ours; it's sweet," said McKown.
Besides Walker, Judge also returns two other players who ranked among the state's top defensive stats leaders last fall. McKown ranked 10th in the state with 121 tackles, and defensive end A.J. Carmen was fifth in sacks with 11.
If all three get going again this fall, opposing offenses should consider themselves warned.
Region 10 Projections
(Preseason rankings are based on coaches' votes)
1. PARK CITY: Having endured postseason heartbreak in each of the past two seasons, including a last-minute loss to Logan last fall that literally put coach Brandon Matich in the hospital with an anxiety attack, the Miners hope to finally get over the first-round playoff hump in 2008. Senior captain Tony Epperson will lead the way for the Miners on and off the field. An outstanding leader, Epperson will anchor Park City's defense at free safety and will be a solid weapon on offense at wide receiver. Meanwhile, expect expect junior tailback Dylan Chynoweth to continue the Miners' tradition of producing outstanding running backs. Incumbent Scott Neuenschwander will battle junior Erik Walker for the starting spot at QB, while senior Wes Hedgecock will anchor both lines. Park City won't be quite as big as it's been in past years, but it will have more speed. 2007 RECORD: 8-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the first round.
2. JUDGE: Judge advanced all the way to the 3A title game last year, and many of the same pieces are in place for the Bulldogs to try and make another run this year. Senior running back Bruce Garlinghouse rushed for 799 yards and 10 TDs last fall and could have a much bigger season in 2008. Fullback Zack McKown is also back, as are offensive linemen Chase Jones, Pat Grogan and Will Katoa, as well as receiver Keenyn Walker and tight end A.J. Carmen. Walker (11 INTs), Carmen (11 sacks) and McKown (121 tackles) should also star defensively. Because numerous problems with its stadium haven't been fixed yet, Judge won't be able to use the facility at all this year. That had been widely known for four months, and the Bulldogs will instead use Juan Diego's stadium for all of its home games except one, which will be held at East High. 2007 RECORD: 10-3. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the state championship game.
3. WASATCH: Gone are the senior stars that led Wasatch to a Region 10 title and a spot in last year's semifinals, and the challenge for coach Steve North and his staff is to find ways to replace those guys this fall. It certainly might take some time, but the Wasps will look to get better and better as the season progresses. And they'll undoubtedly benefit from having an outstanding offensive line, which will be anchored by Jake Hardcastle at center. He'll be joined by fellow seniors Sean Sullivan, Jake Olsen and Colton Robinson to form what should be the strength of the team. Aside from them, senior Matt Davis (TE/LB) could be poised to have a big season. Payton Davis and Cody Raymond are currently competing for the starting position at quarterback, and North will probably fill the running back position by committee. Cory Bohne and Caleb Moritz are also players to watch. 2007 RECORD: 9-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the semifinals.
4. UINTAH: The Utes hope to take some big steps forward this fall. A season ago, Uintah played a tough preseason schedule with a fairly inexperienced team and never really recovered. Second-year coach Doug Harding will field another pretty inexperienced group again this fall, especially on offense, but he feels his team learned a number of lessons a year ago and will be ready to roll this time around. On paper, Uintah's linebacker corps should be the strength of the Utes' team. Chris Wilson, Dax Nyberg and junior Ryker Thacker are all returning starters at linebacker, and they're bolstered by Ethan Hopla and Kevin Barton. Senior star Kameron Dearing will anchor both of Uintah's lines and will be counted on to be a leader. Tyler Larsen is a returning starter at wide receiver, and the Utes will look to solidify a number of other spots on their depth chart before the start of the season. 2007 RECORD: 1-9. PLAYOFFS: Missed the playoffs.
5. UNION: With All-State quarterback Rhen Richard at the controls, Union shared the Region 10 title with Wasatch last fall and advanced to the second-to-last round of the 3A tournament. However, gone is Richard and gone is coach Doug Bills, who took Union to great heights in one year before leaving last winter. Accordingly, many in Region 10 don't know exactly what to expect from the Cougars in 2008, evidenced by the fact that region coaches voted Union to finish last in the league. However, even without its star, many of Union's other key pieces from last year are back, and Region 10 and Class 3A would be unwise to write off the Cougars. Senior Kaden Richard (RB/CB) should become an even bigger star in the absence of his brother this fall, as should Zach Trujillo (WR/LB), Marcel Bourque (LT/FS) and Michael Yazzie (C). Exactly 20 of Union's 22 projected starters will be seniors, and there's no reason why the Cougars couldn't have another big year before first-year coach Sam Elliott has to rebuild in earnest. 2007 RECORD: 9-4. PLAYOFFS: Lost in the semifinals.
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