East Texas 25: No. 21 Caiden Walker, OL, Newton
NEWTON -- Caiden Walker wasn't going to say anything.
Walker suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the second game of Newton's 2017 season but kept quiet. He endured pain every day in practice when the Eagles pushed sleds. He grimaced through contact in their games on Friday nights.
Eventually, it paid off when Newton defeated Gunter to claim the 3A Division II state championship in December.
“I was taking a lot of ibuprofen," he said. "Just about every time I could get a chance to take it."
When the season was over Walker, an offensive lineman for the Eagles, told coach W.T. Johnston about pain in his knee. They went to see a doctor, who wanted to look at Walker's shoulder as well. Although the knee turned out to be tendonitis, the doctor discovered the torn labrum and Walker underwent surgery in February.
Johnston asked Walker why he never said anything.
"I wanted to play," Walker said.
It's a good thing for the Eagles that he did.
Newton averaged 460.3 yards per game behind Walker and the rest of the offensive line. Although many want to credit the talented skill players (Tamauzia Brown, Darwin Barlow and Josh Foster all have Division I offers), Johnston said Walker and the rest of the line deserve more credit than they receive.
“That was the difference in us this year," Johnston said. "We were gonna go where they went. They weren’t very good at all at the beginning of the year, but they worked and became really good. Now they’re all back. That’s going to be our strong suit. Caiden is gonna be one of the best linemen we’ve ever had.”
Walker has started to see his recruitment take off in the offseason. After receiving offers from the Tulane, Memphis UTEP and others, he committed to Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Walker said the program's history of turning out successful offensive linemen stuck out to him.
“Louisiana Tech is nice because they’re producing good offensive lineman and also winning most of their games," he said.
Walker (6-5, 285) said he is looking to add strength this offseason after being unable to work out for four months because of the surgery. He was finally cleared earlier this month and is back in the weight room.
Luckily for Louisiana Tech, strength will likely be the easiest thing to improve for Walker. Both Johnston and Walker described his game as "nasty," with Walker saying he likes to "body slam" opposing players. His highlights from 2017 are proof.
Johnston also praised his footwork.
"I’d play him at tight end if I had another tackle like him," Johnston said. "He has real long arms. He’s 6-5, 285 right now. He can run real well. He’s got a mean streak in him. You have a hard time finding big guys that are nasty and he’s pretty nasty."
Newton returns the majority of its key contributors from its championship season, the only key loss being linebacker Corbin Foster, the team's leading tackler. Still, they know that it won't be easy to repeat and will have to play the entire season as a target to the 3A opponents.
But as Walker indicated last season, his toughness might be his most valuable asset to the Eagles. They can count on him to play no matter how much pain he's in. He credits his mother and his tough upbringing for instilling that virtue in him.
It might be why the pain from last season didn't faze him.
"We have a basketball goal at our house and it’s not nice." he said. "The court is dirt and there’s knots on the ground everywhere. I always used to talk about wanting concrete. (My mom) used to tell me if I can play on this goal, I can play on any good goal.
"I used to be like, ‘Oh, whatever,’ but now I understand if you can be good on the sorriest goal or the sorriest field, you’re gonna ball out on the big field.”