Walker overcomes injury

Walker recovers from injury

By BRUCE HEFFLINGER hefflinger@crescent-news.com Published:

NAPOLEON -- The early prognosis was not good.

"The doctor said I would be lucky to walk normal again," explained Napoleon's Nate Walker, reflecting back to a devastating leg injury that took place two years.

Now a senior, Walker was hurt in the third quarter of the opening junior varsity game of the 2009 season against Defiance. A safety at the time, Walker came up to stop a sweep, but his foot caught and all the weight of the opponent ended on top of his lower left leg during the tackle.

Only a sophomore, his football future looked dim.

"I was in the press box running the scoreboard," explained his father Jeff Walker about the mishap. "I didn't know how bad it was at first but then it got more and more crowded around him. The Defiance coaches came over and then Mike Nye (Napoleon trainer) and I knew it was serious and I had to get down there. Mike said it was broke. It was ugly ... 90 degrees to the left."

Theresa Walker, Nate's mother, was watching two other sons in a cross country meet and did not see the injury take place.

"Jeff called and at first thought Nate might have dislocated his ankle," she said. "Jeff was worried if he was going to play football again and I was thinking I hope he doesn't limp."

A lot went through the minds of the parents.

"Any parent that's into athletics or coached athletics want to see their boys excel," Jeff explained. "At first your selfish and think is he ever going to play again. You always think about their health but it wasn't life threatening. Mike Nye said he'd never seen anything like it. Depending how the surgery went, his (football) career could be over."

Surgery took place a day later.

"We asked the surgeon will Nate be able to play sports again and he looked at me and Nate and said 'Nate do you want to play football?' " Jeff said. "He said yes and the surgeon said 'then play football.' "

However, getting to that point would not be easy. For one semester Walker was schooled at home with the help of a tutor.

"The only time I got out was to go to football games," Walker pointed out.

But even in difficult times, his love of the sport did not diminish. In fact, it actually increased.

"I took it to heart," Walker said of hearing the doctor's early words about the possibility of never walking normal again. "Football means so much to me."

If he was going to walk normal - let alone play football -it would mean plenty of hard work.

"I had to learn how to walk all over again," Walker said of his rehabilitation. "I had to learn how to jump again. It was hard. Everything was so weak."

But the determination to play football helped.

"Marlow Witt was getting therapy at the time and I remember her saying to me how amazing it was to see him on the treadmill with one leg," Theresa said.

And then there was the weight room.

"He took his rehab a step further and hit the weight room as soon as he could get on his feet," his father explained. "He actually started lifting when he was in a walking boot. From that point on he spends five to seven days a week in the weight room."

All the hard work in rehab proved worth it and Walker was walking normal by the end of his sophomore year.

"All the rehab and physical therapy worked out," noted Walker.

It brought about a changed person as well.

"I lifted with my upper body when I was hurt," Walker explained. "I became a lot stronger physically ... and emotionally."

The possibility of not playing football did that.

"It made me a lot tougher," Walker said of what he went through to get back on the gridiron. "No little injury was going to make me come off the field again."

But first Walker had to get on the field.

A back-up linebacker to start the 2010 campaign, Walker got his opportunity to see more action when - ironically - a teammate, Logan Badenhop, was injured.

In his first start Walker recorded 15 tackles in a win over Bryan.

"Coach (Mike) Hummer said to me after the game 'we should have put you there a long time ago,' " Walker reflected.

By year's end Walker earned first-team Greater Buckeye Conference, first-team Northwest District and special-mention all-state honors. The inside linebacker finished with 89 tackles, 16 for a loss, while adding three fumble recoveries, two sacks, one forced fumble and one interception.

But he was not about to be satisfied.

"Once I got back to normal I didn't want to stop my progress," Walker said. "I was going to keep working hard. I wanted to live up to my junior year and not let the team down this year. My goals individually as a linebacker were to be first team all-state and have at least 100 tackles."

With two regular-season games to play, Walker is nearing one goal with 97 tackles on the year. In addition, the senior has 21/2 sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Walker also plays running back where he has rushed for 264 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.

His career brings a smile to Napoleon head coach Tory Strock.

"Nate is the model of what it means to overcome adversity," Strock said. "He's also an example of what a weight room can do for an athlete. Not only is he bigger physically, but his speed has increased. He's one of the most dominate defensive players for sure in northwest Ohio if not the state."

Pretty impressive for someone who doctors feared might not walk normal again just two years ago.

"The injury gave me a different viewpoint on life," Walker related. "I learned how many people cared for me. People visited me and brought food when I was hurt. The seniors that year came and talked to me and told me how much they missed me. That made me feel good. It shows what the Napoleon football family is all about."

And where his priorities are in life.

"Football, lifting and family, that's my life now," Walker said. "They mean everything to me."

Walker hopes his playing days on the gridiron don't end once his senior season comes to a close.

"I don't want to settle for just average, I hope to walk on at a Division I school and work my way up," Walker said. "I just want to play at a Division I school and show what I can do with hard work and determination.

"I said after the injury the sky's the limit. I want to live life and take nothing for granted. You need to cherish every game and every play because you never know when it's going to be your last."

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