It’s a rare cloudy morning in early August, and quarterback Eric Walker and his Martin teammates are toiling away in their second day of fall practice. Their reward for hours of hot and humid preseason practices will be an opening week matchup against one of the state’s premier programs.
DeSoto, the Warriors’ neutral-site opponent Aug. 29 at Mansfield’s Newsom Stadium, enters the season as the No. 2-ranked 6A team, according to The Associated Press. Going toe to toe with a state powerhouse sounds like a tall task, but Walker, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior, is used to handling big moments.
Less than three months ago, the then-junior pitched the Martin baseball team to a 3-2 upset of top-ranked Laredo Alexander in the state semifinals in Round Rock. Walker, who has verbally committed to play baseball at Louisiana State, went 14-0 on the mound last season for the state runner-up Warriors.
“Knowing that we’ve made it [in baseball], it’s a goal for football to get there,” Walker said. “For me to share that experience and how cool it was and how we just came up short, I guess that’s an extra motivating factor.”
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Walker is motivated to see how far he can lead the Warriors football team when healthy. A broken ankle last October forced him to miss the final five district games and the first two playoff games. Tre Brown proved a capable backup, leading the Warriors to a 7-0 record in Walker’s absence.
But Walker’s return in the regional semifinals gave the offense an added boost. He passed for 260 yards and two touchdowns as Martin scored 54 points in a narrow loss to eventual state champion Allen.
“We love Eric Walker,” Martin coach Bob Wager said. “He has the ‘it’ factor that everybody alludes to and talks about. Nobody can put an absolute description on it. Very few come through who have it. He’s got ‘it’ and it doesn’t matter if he’s throwing baseballs or footballs or playing checkers, he’s going to be my first pick no matter what we play — spelling contest, you name it.”
It’s a good thing Walker’s not in a spelling contest. He’s missing a letter. Walker, who passed for 1,183 yards and seven TDs as a junior, seems hesitant to use “I” when describing his role in Martin’s up-tempo offense.
“We’re going to be explosive,” Walker said. “I have a lot of people around me who can make plays. I don’t feel like I have to do it all myself, nor do I think I could if I tried. We definitely have a lot of playmakers. We’ll go out there every game and give it our best and see what happens.”
One of those explosive playmakers Walker will turn to is fellow senior Nic Smith. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound running back has already broken Martin’s all-time yardage record for a running back. And Smith, who piled up 1,896 rushing yards and 34 scores a season ago, has a chance to finish as the Arlington school district’s all-time rusher. But Smith — whom Wager describes as another team-first, unselfish guy — said stats aren’t on his mind.
“It’s playoffs, and to carry my team and to lead — be a better leader,” Smith said of his 2015 goals.
Smith and wide receiver Tyler Wilson, who led the team in 2014 with nearly 600 receiving yards, expect to supply a bevy of big plays. Add Walker’s leadership to the mix and the Warriors offense should have all the ingredients to consistently confound opponents.
“It would be great to have everything back together,” Smith said of Walker being healthy. “We can pick people apart.”