Walker seniors overcome adversity
by Johnathan Bentley
Nov 07, 2013 | 2058 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Walker's seniors guided the Vikings to a second straight region championship and an 8-2 record. The team isn't eligible for the state playoffs due to being placed on restrictive probation after the season opener against Cullman. Seniors on the team are, front row, from left: Ran Crump, Branson McGough, Kevin Clay Jr., Chris Young, Cannon Dunn, Hayden Cain and Lucas Allbritton, back row: KJ Farris, Cody Brown, Joe Bell, Jaiquan Crook, Brady Pugh, Austin Mansell, Stone Stephenson and Jarrett Tuggle. Keony Abrom and Torelle Young were not pictured. Photo by Johnathan Bentley
Walker's seniors guided the Vikings to a second straight region championship and an 8-2 record. The team isn't eligible for the state playoffs due to being placed on restrictive probation after the season opener against Cullman. Seniors on the team are, front row, from left: Ran Crump, Branson McGough, Kevin Clay Jr., Chris Young, Cannon Dunn, Hayden Cain and Lucas Allbritton, back row: KJ Farris, Cody Brown, Joe Bell, Jaiquan Crook, Brady Pugh, Austin Mansell, Stone Stephenson and Jarrett Tuggle. Keony Abrom and Torelle Young were not pictured. Photo by Johnathan Bentley
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Walker’s football team won’t be remembered for any lengthy playoff run or any particular victory on the field this season.

The seniors would prefer to be remembered as a team that didn’t let difficult circumstances hold them back.

Walker was placed on restrictive probation by the AHSAA after an on-the-field fight between head coach John Holladay and the Cullman High School defensive coordinator in the season opener. Holladay resigned the next day and the Vikings were hit with a postseason ban later that week.

Without their head coach and with no postseason hopes, no one would have blamed the Vikings for throwing in the towel.

Instead, quite the opposite happened.

Behind interim coach Heath Brunner and his senior leaders on the field, Walker won eight of its last nine games, earning a second straight region championship along the way.

“I hope we are remembered for the adversity we overcame,” said running back Joe Bell, one of 14 seniors on the team.

“We formed a bond in the summer and that made us strong. We had long days of practice and two-a-days. Most of the summer was spent together.

“I had a feeling we would come together, but you never know.”

Walker lost the season opener in devastating fashion, blowing a 10-0, fourth-quarter lead.

Aided by a series of Walker mistakes, Cullman drove the field in the final seconds, scoring the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds left on the clock for a 13-10 victory.

Following the on-field confrontation, Walker went into its region opener at Moody in Week 2 with a new head coach and plenty of question marks.

The Vikings won that game 27-12 and focused their energy on winning a second region title.

Walker didn’t miss a beat with Brunner, who had never served a head football coach.

“He stepped up and filled a role that he prepared to fill, but I think he did a great job — better than any other coach could have done,” senior Brady Pugh said.  

Fellow senior Kevin Clay Jr. agreed.

“Coach Brunner stepped in and played a big role. In game situations, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what play to call and what players to play. He’s a good coach all the way around,” Clay said.

Walker's only blemish over the last nine games was a 20-14 loss at Russellville.

The Golden Tigers were one of just two teams to score 20 or more points against Walker — the other was Mortimer Jordan in a 28-21 Walker victory.

The Vikings’ defense finished as one of the top units in school history, allowing just 105 points on the season.

That ranks fourth in Walker history over the last 30 years.

Unfortunately, that unit, which includes outstanding senior linebackers Jaiquan Crook and Austin Mansell, won’t get a chance to show its worth in the playoffs.

Walker would have opened the playoffs at home against Athens this week, but instead will watch the postseason games from the stands.

“I will be watching someone play in the playoffs, wishing that we were down there, but it is what it is,” Pugh said.

“We could have done well,” Clay said, adding that he will attend a high school playoff game this Friday.

“It’s going to be hard not to play. Instead of watching other teams, it should have been us. It’s like, what could have been.”

Seniors on this year's team are: Keony Abrom, Lucas Allbritton, Joe Bell, Cody Brown, Hayden Cain, Kevin Clay Jr. Jaiquan Crook, Ran Crump, Cannon Dunn, KJ Farris, Austin Mansell, Branson McGough, Brady Pugh, Stone Stephenson, Jarrett Tuggle, Chris Young and Torelle Young.