“Very well-mannered” is the first description offered by Crescenta Valley High football Coach Tony Zarrillo in regard to Jake Walker.
It's immediately followed by “wonderfully polite.”
“One of the nicest kids you're ever gonna meet,” says Zarrillo of the 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior.
While they are no doubt sentiments that would make Walker's parents proud, they're hardly the imposing images that normally characterize a linebacker.
That revelation immediately brings a grin to Zarrillo's face, however.
“Something happens when he crosses the sideline onto the field,” the Falcons coach replies. “He understands how to play the game. He understands what's necessary to be successful.”
It's a depiction of accuracy according to the soft-spoken Walker.
“I'm very competitive,” he says. “I hate to lose, that's probably what changes. I have that aggressiveness.”
Indeed, Walker prides himself on his character off the field, but, just the same, prides himself on how he plies his craft on the field.
“On the field, he's just intense,” teammate Matt Zilinsky says. “He's not a nice guy on the field.”
When the Falcons' 2008 season kicks off on Thursday against nonleague rival La Cañada, Walker will be a focal point. His only respite will come when his team receives kickoffs, as he's on every other kicking team, right along with being a starting receiver in the Falcons' revamped spread offense and a returning starter on defense, making the move from safety to outside linebacker.
He played safety last season in the Falcons' 4-4 formation, which transforms into a 3-4 set this year. Likewise, the offense has incurred change. Honest to a tee, Walker admits he's been a bit slow picking it all up.
“I'm still one of the guys that's a little behind,” he admits.
But he's far from daunted, confident that, eventually, it will all come second nature to him and he'll be able to let his athleticism take over.
With a 4.0 grade-point average at school year's end in 2008, it's hard to believe Walker will linger when it comes to picking up offensive and defensive schemes. It's supported by his attitude.
“I believe football is all about attitude, extra effort,” Walker says. “I always like to get the job done all the way, just get it done right.”
And with that example set, the senior has transitioned into a leader.
“He is the kind of leader that other kids just gravitate to,” Zarrillo says.
Being a leader is a role embraced by Walker. Quick to bring up the importance of religion in his life, leading the way just seems to come natural to him.
“The biggest part of my life is my faith,” says Walker, a devout Christian. “I want to be a light to my friends and teammates.”
Leading the way for Walker has meant taking on every added responsibility thrown his way — and doing it all with a smile. He switched positions on defense without a word of complaint and welcomed his new offensive role. While more playing time is likely an aspect any football player would relish, the added conditioning and preparation is likely not. For Walker, it's merely another trial to overcome.
“It might be a little shock when the first game comes, but I think it can happen,” says Walker of the physical toll. “I see it as a big challenge.”
Many prognosticators believe another season of struggles could be in store for the Falcons. Predictably, the positive outlook of Walker isn't at all clouded by that.
“I have big hopes for this year,” he says.
There's little doubt much of the Falcons' hopes rely heavily upon Walker's role. But there's no doubt Walker will do everything he can to do right by the Falcons.
“He's an all-around good kid,” says defensive lineman Sam Campbell, who's known Walker for more than a decade. “He tries to do right in ever situation he's put in. He puts everybody else's needs in front of his.”
Win or lose, two-way standout or not, it's clear that on and off the field, Walker has left a lasting impression on the Falcons — even before the season's begun.
“He is one of the great young people that we've had come through here in a while,” Zarrillo says. “If I had a team full of Jake Walkers, we would always be successful and I would probably coach forever.”