During the month of August and leading up to the kickoff of the high school football season, PSN will profile some of the top players in the WPIAL. These player previews and our 2018 High School Football coverage is sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts of Pittsburgh, proud sponsors of high school football in Western Pennsylvania.
Washington’s Dan Walker Jr. has set a lofty goal for his senior season.
“I want to lead the WPIAL in interceptions,” Walker Jr. said.
It’s not crazy to think he could, either.
The 6-foot-2 safety quietly picked off five passes in 2017 as a junior, yet Washington’s postseason run and defensive leaders Myckel Brown and Isaiah Schoonmaker often overshadowed his ball hawking prowess.
With Walker Jr. roaming the secondary, the Prexies were one of the WPIAL’s most-complete defenses. Opposing teams averaged less than 13 points per game and only three opponents during the regular season scored double-digits.
Walker Jr. is extremely adept at reading opposing quarterbacks and attacking the ball once it’s in the air. But he’s also not afraid to slide down and help shutdown an opponent’s run game.
“I play the ball well in the air,” Walker Jr. said of his strengths. “I can come up and make tackles also. I’m just a ball hawk.”
Those skills were on display in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game against Steel Valley. The Ironmen had moved the ball inside the Washington five-yard line late in the first quarter but were stopped on fourth-and-goal inches from endzone. Walker Jr. made the play, racing over from his safety position to thwart a sweep. It set the tone for the rest of the game. One the Prexies would go on to win, 37-10.
Walker Jr.’s story is one of tragedy and inspiration. His mother was killed in car accident involving a Port Authority bus in November of 2009. Wanting to escape the fallout of the accompanying trial and to create a better future for his children, Walker Jr.’s father moved Daniel and his sister, Danyel, to Atlanta.
The younger Walker, who was 11 at the time of the move, was passionate about football and developed into a burgeoning star. He started at safety as a sophomore at Georgia powerhouse Brookwood High School and even played in the Georgia Dome in a nationally televised game.
A series of unforeseen events led the Walkers back to Washington last summer, and after setting out the first four games of the season by rule, Walker Jr. rejoined his old Prexies teammates on the field. In just his fourth game back, he caught five catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns and intercepted two passes.
Louisville was the first school to offer Walker Jr., and Ohio, Eastern Michigan, and Cincinnati have since joined the mix. The three-star recruit anticipates he’ll make a decision before the end of August. Although he pays little attention to recruiting lists, he believes he’s among western Pennsylvania’s best.
“I definitely think I’m one of the top players in the WPIAL, regardless of what the rankings might say,” Walker Jr. said. “Regardless of where I am ranked or how high I am, I going to give my best.”
Whoever lands the Washington product will be getting a student of the game. Walker Jr. focused on his footwork in the offseason, particularly backpedaling. He consistently talks about studying the quarterback and scanning the field, mastering the game of chess between the offense and defense.
Brown and Schoonmaker graduated last spring, leaving vacancies at team leader, and Walker Jr. is prepared to become that voice for the Prexies.
“I’ve definitely stepped into more of a leadership role than I had last year,” Walker Jr. said. “Most of our leaders graduated, so it’s kind of up to me to step up and keep things under control and calm.”
If last year is any indication, the Prexies are in good hands.