FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 09, 2011
Keep Walden down? That’s not going to happen
You are not going to keep Colby Walden down.
Being a “playa’’ in high school in Tampa couldn’t. A learning disability couldn’t. And, a tough time adjusting to life at Jacksonville University, to the point that those associated with the team gave him the nickname “can’t get right’’ couldn’t.
Walden, a 5-11, 185-pound cornerback for the Dolphins, has worked both academically and athletically to the point where he now is known as “get right.’’ And, the fastest player on the team (he does about a 4.4 40-yard run) was right against The Citadel last week when he recorded four tackles, including his first-ever sack and returned a kickoff 71 yards. It may well have been the Most Valuable Player of the game performance.
“I wouldn’t call it the MVP,’’ Walden said this week. “I played my hardest. That’s what the coaches expect of me and that’s what they’re going to get.’’
Playing hard is something that has come easy – sometimes too easy -- to Walden. That includes his early high school days at Tampa Bay Tech (Tampa, Fla.) when he and friends were as interested in extracurricular activities as much as studying. A 1.72 grade point average is all the proof one needs.
Two winless seasons, the paltry GPA and the want of a new coach led Walden’s uncle, James Puckett, to Puckett’s former high school coach, Earl Garcia. Garcia was happy to take the speedster at Tampa’s Hillsborough High midway through his sophomore year.
“I knew it wasn’t in my best interest to be there,’’ Walden says now.
At Hillsborough, Walden and teammates Lindsey Lamar and Terrance Mitchell became fast friends and the plan was for all three to play at South Florida. Lamar and Mitchell are; Walden’s learning disability kept him away.
“The learning disability messed with me through school,’’ Walden said. “I struggled – struggled a lot – and by the grace of God, man, I made it.’’
As his high school career was winding down, the Dolphins came calling and said if Walden scored high enough on his ACT there was a roster spot awaiting. He got the score, but his GPA wasn’t high enough and he had to take a night school science class before graduating in an effort to bolster it.
“I did what I had to do, busted my behind and pulled off a B,’’ he said. With that, he was off to Jacksonville, but only after coach Kerwin Bell promised Walden’s mom, Katrina who had divorced his father Elliott, that her son would leave college with a degree.
Even though he was recruited as a wide receiver, the JU staff switched him to defensive back. That clearly has worked as he is a preseason All-Pioneer League selection.
With the new position and school, however, things weren’t so smooth.
“It was a tough adjustment, a very tough adjustment,’’ Walden said. “My first semester was horrible … The classes, football it was all new to me and it was just a blur. I was trying to do too much at one time and with my learning disability that’s a lot, that is a lot.’’
The coaching staff recognized his situation and decided he just needed a little organization. That and the big influence of JU professor Dr. Jeff Martin has turned Walden around to last semester posting a 3.06 GPA as he works toward a degree in geography.
“I love geography,’’ Walden said. “I’d want to take the degree and use it to work with kids.’’
One of those kids may be Walden’s as he is further motivated by Colby Walden Jr., born a year ago.
“He’s my guy,’’ Walden says of his son. “That’s another reason I do this, that I keep pushing.’’
His classroom efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“Colby came here as a young man who wanted to play football and that’s it,’’ said Director of Student Athlete Services Chris Johnson. “He has transformed into a young man who has made it a priority to leave here with a degree. There are things in his personal life that have led to that, but it’s also been a matter of him seeing the value and leaving here with a degree and being able to look past life after football. He has grown up a lot and matured in a lot of different ways and it has been fun to see that happen.’’
-- Jim Nasella