Walker looks to rebound after 6-5 season
by Johnathan Bentley
Aug 30, 2012 | 894 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
John Holladay is used to winning.

The Walker High School football coach has averaged nearly 10 wins a year in his first four seasons with the Vikings.

Then came the 2011 season.

The Vikings showed flashes of brilliance throughout the year — sustaining those flashes was another story.

Walker played eventual state champion close for three and a half quarters, came up one play short against Cullman and had Fort Payne on the ropes in the opening round of the playoffs only to come oh so close to a road upset.

In the end, Walker was left with several close calls and a 6-5 record.

"It was just one of those weird years. It was strange. We couldn't get things together some times. We had a chance to win several games, but we didn't," Holladay said. "There is detail to things. You've got to make sure you stick to your gameplan, your philosophy. We are due to win some close ones."

Now the Vikings are out to prove last year was the exception rather than a sign of things to come.

"There is a different vibe. It's been good. I think our kids are excited about playing. It's a close group. I think they believe they are going to win some ball games," Holladay said.

Taking a look at Walker's schedule, there are more questions than answers facing the Vikings

Walker graduated 26 players off last year's team, including starting quarterback Carson Roberts (1,639 passing yards) and linebacker Jonathan Piteo (136 tackles).

Junior quarterback Blake Wilkes takes over as the Vikings starting quarterback and will be thrown right into the heart of 5A football with a road game at Cullman in the season opener.

"We have a lot of question marks. This is Blake Wilkes' first year to start at quarterback. We've also got question marks on the offensive line and in the secondary," Holladay said.

The Vikings open the season with a non-region game against rival Cullman. Neither team played a jamboree in preparation for the season.

"It could make a difference. We are going to have to limit our mistakes — the five yard penalties, the illegal procedures, the offsides and the timing of our special teams. Those are the things that will get you in the first game," Holladay said.

Walker remains in 5A, Region 6 this season, but the region schedule has changed considerably. Curry, Hayden and Mortimer Jordan remain. Defending state champion Hartselle and Cullman are out of the area while Center Point, Pinson Valley, Moody and Springville move in.

Center Point and Pinson Valley finished 2-3 in Region 4 last season and are favorites to contend for the region title this season.

"Pinson Valley is loaded with athletes. Center Point has a ton of athletes as well. Curry is doing some things right and winning some games. They are going to be a good opponent too. (The region) is going to be a lot better than people may think. Mortimer Jordan has a chance to be a pretty good football team. Somebody is going to be a lot better," Holladay said.

Though the Vikings lose an experienced quarterback, the team returns its top three rushers from last year in Tyler Phillips, Kevin Clay and Michael Bridges. The trio rushed for more than 1,200 yards combined last season along with 12 touchdowns.

There are also 15 seniors on this year's squad: Jeb Cowen, Joseph Pedraza, Blake Moore, Brandon Ruble, Saige Harding, Todd Homan, Tyler Phillips, Charles Lane, Carlton Dorrough, Logan Black, William Cook, Andrew Reed, Brett Buchanan, James Reed and Blake Robbins.

"We are going to count on all 15 of them," Holladay said.

Over the last three years, Walker's defense has been at the heart of the Vikings' success, giving up an average of just 12.8 per game over that span.

Holladay feels it will again be a strength this year.

The Vikings may have lost Jonathan Piteo, but junior Austin Mansell returns at linebacker as well as senior Blake Moore, Todd Homan and Tyler Phillips and junior Cody Brown.

"That's five guys who will play four positions. They will rotate in. That should be a solid group," I think our team speed on defense will be a strength as well," said Holladay, singling out Moore, Mansell, JaQuon Crook and Jamison Lane.

Walker also welcomes back kicker Joseph Pedraza, who will kick field goals and extra points and will also have kickoff and punting duties.

Bridges, Clay and Quadrekas Key will return kicks.

"I hope we see consistency on both sides of the ball and that we are physical," said Holladay, adding that he has high hopes for the season.

"I hope we have some traditions in place and maybe some standards we hold our players to that are going to allow us be successful this year and in the future. We have high expectations."