The Trojan middle linebacker was invited to take part in the Future All-Americans Bowl and represent a squad from the National Football Association (NFA), marking one of only five Georgia players selected for the 7th Grade Game, which takes place at 1 p.m. at historic Plant Field in Tampa. The NFA team will square off against a squad that is also comprised of top up-and-coming talents from the United Youth Football League (UYFL), a Florida-based organization.
And for Walker, 13, the chance to see where he stands against other elite, young players in the country is an opportunity he’s been looking forward to since receiving the invitation.
“I’ve just got to give credit to God and my dad for all the hard work he’s put in with me, 24/7. We get up early in the morning, 6 everyday,” Walker said. “I was really shocked about the whole thing, though, to be invited.”
Josh’s father, Jock Walker, a former all-state offensive lineman and member of the Trojans’ 1998 state championship team, said his son got noticed at some camps that were affiliated with the NFA this past summer, leading to his selection for the invite-only All-American showcase.
“Over the last eight to 10 years, it’s really getting big. And that’s mostly because of all the people that’s played and came out of there like Braxton Miller, James Franklin, Jake Long and a couple more guys, to just name a few,” Jock Walker said. “Those are the guys that have really made it big, and that’s helped get these camps so much publicity.
“It’s a big opportunity to not only represent Carrollton, but just for himself to go play on a stage like that against some of the best kids across the nation.”
Mike Nelson, a coach on the seventh-grade team from Fayetteville, got familiar with Josh Walker’s abilities at the summer camps and is looking forward to seeing him perform this week. Nelson said the practices leading up to the game are probably more valuable than the game itself.
“They’re getting coached like a kid would in college. It’s just faced-paced, fast-paced. We threw a lot at them [Monday] and didn’t expect them to learn it all, but we hope by the end of the week, they’re learning all the terminology,” Nelson said.
Of the five players selected from the Peach State, Josh Walker was the only player picked from the defensive side of the ball. He is fresh off a standout season as one of the defensive stalwarts for the Trojan junior high squad, starting every game with a broken arm and leading the team in tackles as a seventh-grader.
Josh Walker, who already stands 6-feet and 198 pounds, has dedicated himself to the sport, getting up at 6 a.m. three days a week to work out before school. Already benching 205 and squatting in the ball park of 215-225 consistently, the rising talent is beginning to see the fruits of his labor pay off.
“The last two years we’ve been putting in the 6 o’clock in the morning workouts. We faithfully get up at 6 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. One week we work on straight power, one week we work on straight explosion, and that’s been helping him a lot,” Jock Walker said. “When we first started, he had trouble with it. He had trouble getting up. You know, just the normal thing with a kid. But one thing my mother put into me when I was young is if you get it now, it will be easier for you when you get older. And that’s what I’m trying to put in him.”
Nelson said the NFA coaching staff has been mightily impressed with the younger Walker’s size and speed.
“I mean, these guys, they’re overly-impressed with how well he runs for how big he is. Just overly-impressed. I know he plays linebacker at Carrollton, but here it’s 4-3 and we’re seeing everybody run a spread. The only pressure you can really get is with your front four, so we’re going to put him at a defensive end with his hand down and let him do a lot of rushing,” Nelson said.
“But I think when he’s in high school, I think he probably is a Mike linebacker, just because of how big he is and how well he runs. But these coaches and these NFA directors are from all over the United States, and they’re impressed with Josh. I can promise you that.”
Along with competing in the game, the players from both teams got to attend the Outback Bowl, featuring Michigan and South Carolina on New Year’s Day.
Josh Walker said he’s hoping to make a good showing on Thursday and continue striving to be the best.
“I’m looking forward to really competing and competing against all the kids that’s ranked in the nation,” Walker said. “I just want to keep getting better and never settle for just OK.”
It’s a work ethic and discipline that’s made his father beam with pride as he watches his son grow.
“He’s a very humble kid, and we’re just grateful for the opportunity to go participate in this showcase. Not just for himself, because one thing he thinks about is the whole vision. And the vision is to get more exposure to kids in Carrollton,” Jock Walker said.