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HERALD DYNAMITE DOZEN -- Justin Walker, Lee County, QB: The sky's the limit

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

LEESBURG -- Somewhere along the way, Justin Walker put down the guitar and the baseball bat long enough to pick up a football.

And the folks in Lee County couldn't be happier that he did.

Walker still picks his favorite instrument pretty well, and he

still plays baseball -- although he's a better pitcher than hitter -- but what he has done on the football field so far this season

is more than a little mind-boggling.

He's got the kind of numbers that make you look twice. In just three games, Walker has completed 33 of 43 passes for 619 yards and 15 touchdowns -- and he has yet to throw an interception. That's a .767 completion percentage and a quarterback rating of -- drum roll please -- 312.8.

Now for the fun stat: Almost all of this has come during the first half of the games, each of which ended in Lee County routs -- and with a running clock. In his last game, Walker threw six TDs in the first half alone.

"He's amazing,'' Lee County linebacker Thomas Wright said. "I'm glad I'm not playing against him. He just picks defenses apart and makes them look silly.''

Long before Walker was picking apart defenses, he was picking a guitar. What else would you expect from a kid who was born in Elvis' hometown? And he looked just like Bam Bam from the Flintstones when he was a toddler.

"When I was real little, I used to carry a little baseball bat with me wherever I would go,'' Walker said. "I started playing baseball when I was four years old. I started playing the guitar when I was seven.''

Football came later.

The family moved 14 years ago from Tupelo, Miss., which is famous for two things: Elvis' birthplace and Tupelo honey.

And when Justin was nine he decided to try football.

"Everyone else was playing football so I thought I would try it,'' said Walker, a senior. "The first year I played football, I hated it.''

Even when Walker, who was first used as receiver, started playing better and started playing QB, he still wasn't sure if football was in his future.

"He wasn't that good when he was in eighth grade,'' joked Carlton Thomas, an offensive lineman who has been Walker's friend for years. "But he just got better and better. It's because of all the hard work he put into it. He worked hard to make himself better. You could see a big improvement when he was in (10th grade) and then he made a big jump from last year to this year. I would say on a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 9.''

None of Walker's success was an accident. He's tall (6-foot-3) and he has a strong arm, but there is so much more to the way he plays the game.

"The thing about Justin is his work ethic,'' Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said. "In the two years I've been here, he has never missed a practice, a session during the season or the summer. He's a tremendously hard worker. He has taken whatever the coaches have given him and spends time to get better, at his technique, his passing, his footwork ... He has made himself into a really good player.''

Call it a mindset, or determination. Even when Walker "hated" football, he didn't quit the sport.

Why?

"Because I'm not a quitter,'' he said.

And he came to grips with the fact that if he wanted to succeed, he needed to do something about it.

"The summer before my 10th grade year, I figured out I liked football and there was no other position I could play but quarterback, so I sold out to it,'' Walker said. "I put everything I had into it, and wrapped my mind around being a quarterback.''

It shows.

Walker runs a high-voltage offense like he was born to be in the pocket at Lee County, where Fabrizio has ignited the program with a no-huddle, spread that has turned the Trojans -- who won just two games the previous two years -- into a power with a lightning 3-0 start. They also sit atop The Herald's Fab 5 Poll.

And the pilot of this plane is Sky Walker.

"I love the spread offense,'' Walker said. "It's a blast.''

Especially the way Walker runs it: full speed with targets everywhere.

Walker literally spreads the ball around and not just to James Terrell and Sanford Seay, two of the best receivers in Southwest Georgia, and to Denzel Eckles, a quick, deceptive running back who can turn a 5-yard pass into TD in a heartbeat.

"He has such patience, and he has such great focus when he is in the pocket,'' said Dakota Wilson, who starts at left tackle and protects Walker's blind side. "He doesn't just see a little pressure and run like a lot of quarterbacks. He has trust in (the OL) and we trust him. And he sees the (whole field) and knows how to get the ball to the playmakers.''

Fabrizio sees it every Friday night.

"He does a good job with his reads, and has the ability to make the right read and find the open receiver,'' Fabrizio said.

That's the secret to Lee County's wide open offense: a quarterback who can hit teams on the fly -- and then hit them again just like that.

"At first, it was tough to learn the system,'' Walker said. "But we have good coaches who made it understandable and they made it easy. I had to learn how to read defenses. It's fun to just pick defenses apart.

You see the defense get so upset, and there's nothing they can do about it.''

Walker has come full circle from the days when he wasn't sure about football. He loves the game. He still plays the guitar and likes "anything country," and he pitches for Lee County's formidable baseball team. But being the QB for the Trojans is the most important thing in his life these days.

It's Lee County's time, and the rapid rise of the Trojans' football program has just about everyone in town talking about the football team and Walker.

Everyone but Walker.

"He's really a quiet kid,'' Fabrizio said. "Great kid, but quiet. He leads by example.''

Walker is that rare quarterback who silently does the job, and he honestly has no idea what his staggering numbers are this season. After throwing seven touchdowns against Terrell County, Walker was asked how he felt about his big night.

He answered with a surprised look on his face: "I had no idea how many touchdowns I threw tonight,'' he said.

The same was true Tuesday.

"I don't know what my (stats) are for the year,'' he said Tuesday after practice. "It really doesn't matter, just as long as we win. That's all I care about.''

There's the question on whether or not Walker will play at the next level. Walker knows it's there, but refuses to dwell on it.

"I have thoughts about it in the back of my mind,'' he said. "I never worry about it. I'm not playing for college. I never think if I do this or do that how it will affect me going to college. I'm not playing for college. I'm playing for Lee County.''

The folks in Leesburg wouldn't have it any other way.