LIMA — Off the field Jaden Walker is a smart, soft-spoken student at Lima Senior. On the gridiron, the Spartan tailback lets his actions speak and he had a lot to say this season and that garnered him the 2016 Lima News Dream Team Offensive Player of the Year.
Walker rushed for 1,512 yards and 17 touchdowns, helping the Spartans to a 6-4 season. As the main man on the Spartan offense, Walker, also a state-qualifier in track, electrified the crowds with his breakaway speed and stop-on-a-dime moves.
Going into the season, Walker admits he had little expectations due to getting a new coach in Andre Griffin and the uncertainty of how he would be used. But once he became comfortable with what his role was going to be on the Spartans, he quickly felt comfortable and was ready to produce.
After tallying 215 yards and two touchdowns in the season opener against Middletown, the fleet-footed senior was off and running.
“I knew talking to coach (Mike) Fell back in the spring that he was going to be one of the best players in the conference and one of the best players in the state in my opinion,” Griffin said. “Me being a former running backs coach, we just had to find creative ways to get him the football and let him go. I just told him he was going to be the guy and there was no hiding anything, and we were going to ride with him especially with the youth we had, and he did a great job.”
What is more impressive about Walker’s spectacular season was that the opposing teams’ defenses were focused on stopping him but still had little success.
Walker said he knew opposing teams were going to key on him and added that this gave him additional motivation.
“I knew every other team prepared for me because they knew that I was a threat,” Walker said. “So I had to mentally prepare myself every week.”
Because he was the target of opposing defenses, this took the pressure off junior quarterback Adrine Mitchell, allowing him to develop and grow as the Spartan signal caller, adding to Mitchell’s value. Griffin admitted that the offense got off to a slow start but with Walker carrying much of the load, he kept the team moving forward until the younger players got adjusted to playing at the varsity level.
Because he is not a rah-rah type of leader, Walker said he wanted to lead by example and said he pumped up his teammates by breaking off big plays and scoring touchdowns.
“I never talked much but a lot of them looked up to me and if I’m down they would be down with me so I had to keep pushing. I knew I had to perform or they would say they were better than me,” Walker joked. “When I am on the field it is all natural and that is the way I play.”
Griffin said one of the qualities that makes Walker special off the field is that he is a humble person that never sought more touches or accolades. On the field, the Spartan head coach said he did everything he was asked to do and was a total team player.
“He is just a good person in general,” Griffin said. “As a player, he is just a very smart football player and that was one of the biggest surprises for me and that was a good surprise for me. He is very knowledgeable about the game.”
As good as he was as a running back, Griffin said he could be just as effective as a cornerback but because of the youth on the team he was limited in his time on defense.
Griffin added that he led by example and action.
“He was a quiet guy but he could really take it to the house anytime and that excited the guys as well,” Griffin said. “Just showing up on time for practice, working hard and doing the right things is how he led. He is so knowledgeable about the game that if he talked more he could be a coach one day.”
Griffin said his ability to run between the tackles or take it outside made it tougher on defenses to contain him.
While the Spartans missed the playoffs, Walker said he was proud of what he accomplished this year but admitted he will miss the players and coaches.
Walker, who wants to major in accounting, said he is ready to play at the next level. He has received a number of inquiries from several schools interested in him for track and football.
“He definitely can play at the next level and he can run track at the next level,” Griffin said. “He needs to find the right fit for him. He is definitely a difference maker on the ball field.”
Reach Jose Nogueas at 567-242-0468 or on twitter @JoseNogueras1