Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- A biscuit, a pop-tart or maybe a banana.

That's what Justin Walker would grab every morning as he rushed out the door and headed to Lee County High School for those early morning meetings with assistant coaches.

Sorry, Dr. Oz, Walker had little time for a big breakfast.

He was already in a hurry-up mood, rushing off to one of the most amazing seasons anyone in the state of Georgia has ever had at quarterback.

By the time it was over, Walker had broken the state record for passing yards in a game -- tossing a whopping 591 yards in one night Oct. 8 against Warner Robins -- and had thrown for 3,331 yards, the 10th-most in Georgia history, in only 11 games. He also threw 39 touchdown passes, rushed for a couple of touchdowns and completed 60.5 percent (250 of 413 passes) in what turned out to be one of the most memorable seasons in Trojans history, and a season for the ages for Walker.

"It was a lot of fun,'' said Walker, who was the clear and easy choice as The Herald's 2010 John Reynolds Player of the Year for football. "It's a season I will never forget, because of my teammates, because of the times at practice, the early morning meetings -- and the Friday nights.''

Even now, it's difficult to realize just what Walker did.

"To put up those kind of numbers is phenomenal,'' Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said. "Think about it: He set the single-game record for passing yards in Georgia, and he threw for the 10th-most yards in the history of Georgia in just 11 games, not 14 or 15 (including playoffs) like most of those guys. Just think about all the quarterbacks in the entire history of Georgia.

"We had big expectations for Justin before the season started, but he exceeded all of those expectations and more. Look at the 39 touchdown passes. I've been coaching for more than 20 years, and I've never heard of anyone throwing that many touchdowns, or even being close.''

Walker threw more than passes. He helped toss Lee County into a spotlight the Trojans have rarely seen as he helped change the football image in Leesburg, where he led the Trojans to their first winning season and first playoff appearance in five years and to only the sixth winning season in the school's history.

He is proudest of that accomplishment.

"It was a full effort. It happened because of the coaches had to be in it, the players, the hard work and because the community had to be in it,'' said Walker, who is the second player in Lee County history to be named Player of the Year behind 2005 winner D'Vontrey Richardson, who went on to star at FSU and now is playing minor-league baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization.

Lee County and Walker shared the magical season together. After going 2-18 over the past two seasons, nothing felt better to the folks in Leesburg than having a winning team on Friday nights, and no one had more fun than Walker, who at times simply shredded defenses with passes from every angle and corner of the field.

"When you're in the middle of it, you don't always appreciate it,'' Fabrizio said. "But it was something. We had a lot of fun this year. Trojan Field was a lot of fun this year.''

Walker picked teams apart, seeing a field of dreams in front of him that didn't exist two years ago when he was stuck in a veer offense that didn't fit him.

Then Fabrizio showed up with the spread offense -- and everything changed.

"I can remember when we came in here two years ago and everyone was asking if Justin could do it,'' Fabrizio said. "Now everyone is asking, 'How are we going to replace Justin?' "

That's how far Walker, who threw for more than 5,000 yards over the last two years, has come. He started the journey every morning at daybreak when he would rise early, grab a biscuit, pop tart or banana, and race out the door to arrive at school to meet with assistant coaches and watch film long before school started.

Instead of wiping the sleep from his eyes, Walker's eyes were wide open to a new vision.

"The biggest thing about Justin is his preparation,'' Fabrizio said. "He spent a lot of time studying film, and he was able to go through his reads quickly, and do it at a high level. He was able to pick up on what the defense was doing, to read the defense and key to the right play.

And he could quickly decide to go to a second or third receiver on a play. He has a very, very high football I.Q.

"A lot of times we had a play called, and Justin would see something in the defense and make a presnap read and make an adjustment and then make a big play. That's a skill you can't defend physically.''

That's just part of what Walker saw in the morning meetings.

"I saw the field a lot differently,'' Walker said. "I liked coming in early and meeting with the coaches and watching film. I liked to do it so I would know what the coaches were talking about in practices, and it helped me so much in games.

"From last year to this year, I got a lot better at reading defenses and learning what they were going to do. It's just kind of a feeling thing. You learn it, then it's something you're feeling.''

Walker has the arm strength, the poise and the ability to throw pinpoint passes, but because of his dedication -- he not only worked early in the morning but often stayed late after practice to do whatever he needed to do to succeed -- he became the biggest offensive weapon in this part of Georgia.

"I think he will succeed at the next level,'' Fabrizio said. "He has a lot of extra intangibles other quarterbacks don't have. You see it all the time in the NFL. A highly touted, talented quarterback will come to the NFL and not be able to make it because he doesn't have those kinds of intangibles. It's more than arm strength.

"If you're not with him every day, you're not going to realize the things he does that make him successful. It's going to be a very positive thing for (whatever college) gets him. It's hard to scout intangibles, but wherever he goes, the work he puts in and the way he plays the game will impress them.''

Valdosta State, West Georgia, Charleston Southern and several others have shown interest in Walker, but he hasn't made any official visits yet.

"We're talking to some schools,'' Walker said. "We'll see what happens.''

Walker never complained about the hard work, the extra work. He relished it.

"I never thought about doing extra work," he said. "Everyone was working hard. We were trying to get better.''

Including the playoffs, Lee County lost three games to state powers, but the strides the team and Walker made were almost unheard of, and when he had time to throw he punished every team he played. He looked like he was born to run Lee's fast-paced, hurry-up offense that spread the field and allowed Walker to dish passes to several receivers.

"Our offense features the quarterback,'' Fabrizio said. "But he took it to another level with the effort and the extra work he put in.''

Then he had the big night against Warner Robins, throwing for 591 yards in a comeback that fell short. The performance broke a record set the year before by Georgia freshman QB and former Lassiter star Hutson Mason.

"He threw for so many yards throughout the year we didn't realize (he was on a record pace that night)," Fabrizio said. "The difference in that game was he was still throwing passes at the end of the game.''

Lee County got knocked out in the first round of the playoffs to finish at 7-4, but there were some nights when the Trojans and Walker just blew teams out of the stadium.

"We would get going in the first of the game and teams couldn't stop us,'' Walker said. "I just got into a rhythm, and the whole offense got into a rhythm and we felt we were unstoppable. That was a great feeling.''

That's what Walker will remember later, those all-for-one moments when everyone seemed to be playing at a different level -- one they won't forget soon at Lee County.

"It was fun starting a new legacy at Lee County,'' Walker said. "Hopefully, that's what we've done.''