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There really was a time when Jalon Walker, eldest son of a three-time football all-America and a college football head coach, thought about playing a different sport.
Walker was in middle school in Rowan County, and he decided to sample something different.
“I played basketball and soccer, and I ran track,” he says. “And I had a good time at it.”
But it wasn’t meant to be, and the Salisbury High football community is happy for that.
Walker, a junior outside linebacker for the Hornets and a five-star college recruit, will lead Salisbury (8-2) against St. Pauls (8-0) Thursday night in the 2AA state championship game.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.
Walker’s father, Curtis, earned the all-America honors at Catawba College in Salisbury, where he has been head coach since 2012.
Jalon says that while he dabbled in other sports, football was always No. 1.
“I was on the sidelines since I was a kid,” he says. “I played on an AAU youth football team, but my middle school didn’t have a football program. That’s why I tried something different.”
When he arrived at Salisbury High in August 2018 as a freshman, it was game on.
“I’ve known Jalon since he was born,” Salisbury head coach Ed Hinson says.
Hinson played at Catawba when Curtis Walker was an assistant coach, and the two then went to Coastal Carolina as assistant coaches. Curtis’ wife Lasheka, herself a basketball standout in Rowan County, gave birth to Jalon when they were working at Coastal Carolina.
“Jalon is an impressive young man,” Hinson says. “He carries a 4.0 grade-point average, and he had schools like Stanford asking about him.”
Depending on which recruiting service you follow, Walker is the No. 1 or No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2022. He was recruited by dozens of schools but has put all of that behind him. He committed early, as a junior, to Georgia.
“They have defensive coaches who worked at Alabama, and they’ve coached all-America linebackers both at Alabama and Georgia,” Jalon says. “That went a long way in my decision-making process.”
“Go with the truth … stay with the truth,” Walker adds. “That’s what I believe in.”
He arrived at Salisbury shortly after a rebirth in the Hornets’ football fortunes had started under Hinson. In his freshman year, Salisbury finished 7-5 and made the playoffs.
In 2019, the Hornets compiled a 13-3 record and rode all the way to the 2AA state championship game — and a bitterly disappointing 34-0 loss to Shelby at Wake Forest University.
“That was quite a season,” Walker recalls. “Not a lot of people had faith in us. We were assigned to the East region, and we traveled hundreds of miles to games. We were the Road Warriors.”
As for the loss to Shelby, Walker says it was tough to accept.
“We talk to the newcomers on our team, and we tell them they can’t understand what a bad taste it leaves with you,” he says. “It really feels bad to go that far, and not win.
“I think we got big-eyed when that game started. This year, I think we have a better idea of what to expect.”
In St. Pauls, the Hornets face a team that can score a lot of points, has speed, and is big.
“We have to concern ourselves with what we do,” Walker says, when asked about the Bulldogs. “We have been getting a little better every week this season. We’re a different team than we were in the first game.”
Walker, who missed 1½ games this season with a broken finger, has filled several roles for the Hornets. In a 21-14 midseason loss to North Davidson, Hinson moved Walker to more of a defensive back position, after North Davidson had built a 21-0 halftime lead. The Hornets shut out the Black Knights in the second half.
“He can do all sorts of things on the football field,” Hinson says. “In part, that’s because of his physical ability, but it’s also due to his football savvy. He’s been around the game all his life.”
“It’s been something to watch.”
Listen or watch
The Salisbury-St. Pauls game can be watched on the NFHS streaming network, or in the Charlotte area on WCCB-3 (Me TV). You can catch it on radio at WSAT.
Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle