Taconic's Walker Signs to Play Football at DI St. Francis
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- It took Devon Walker a few seconds Wednesday to sign his name.
It took considerably longer to get the piece of paper he signed.
Walker, a senior at Taconic High School, signed his National Letter of Intent to attend St. Francis University in Loretto, Pa.
His high school coach explained that Walker’s passion for the game earned him his spot at the Division I program.
“I remember a conversation I had with Devon,” Jim Ziter said. “Toward end of his sophomore year, we were walking back from practice, and just in conversation, I asked him, ‘What do you want to do when you get out of high school and go to college? Do you want to play any sports?’ “
No small question for a three-sport athlete who also plays on the school’s high-powered basketball and baseball teams.
“He told me, ‘I’d like to play football, but I don’t think I’m quite big enough, and I don’t think I’m as athletic as some of the other guys,’ “ Ziter recalled. “All I told him was: You can do whatever you want if you put the time in.
“Devon, from the start of his junior year through his senior year, he put the time in and dedicated himself to wanting to be a better football player. I’ll always remember that conversation I had with him.”
This fall, Walker averaged 30 yards per catch as a wide receiver on the school’s Western Massachusetts title squad.
At St. Francis, he joins a program that won the Northeast Conference last fall with a 5-1 league record and finished 7-5 overall after going to the FCS (formerly IAA) playoffs for the first time in school history.
Walker said it was not the recent success that grabbed him as much as the people in the Red Flash program.
“They welcomed me in like I was part of the family already and they made me feel at home,” Walker said of his March campus visit to St. Francis. “When I went down there, I was like, ‘This is the place I want to be.’ “
Walker’s actual family -- mom Heather Smegal-Thompson, her husband Kendell Thompson and Devon’s sister -- joined him for Thursday’s signing ceremony in the Taconic lobby. Heather has been a fixture on the sidelines at Taconic football games, taking photos of the team’s remarkable postseason runs the last couple of years.
And the clan no doubt will continue to follow his exploits. The school is a six-hour drive from Pittsfield, but the Red Flash plays in a league with Central Connecticut State and Fairfield, Conn.’s, Sacred Heart, and last year’s team played a road game at the University at Albany.
“I wanted to stay nearby, like driving distance,” Walker said. “This is a long drive, but it’s doable. I wanted them to be able to come watch me play whenever they want.”
Before signing his NLOI, Walker thanked his family as well as some of the educators and coaches who helped him get to where he is.
He also thanked his teammates, who he described as brothers, who joined him in a run of success unparalleled at the school in recent memory: two Western Mass football finals, a Western Mass basketball semi-final, 35 wins over the last two basketball seasons and a baseball team that is 28-3 going back to the start of last season, including a 9-0 start this spring.
Taconic Athletic Director Jim Abel and Principal John Vosburgh praised Walker’s teammates and classmates, boys and girls, many of whom were on hand to witness Thursday’s festivities.
“They’re quality athletes, quality students and quality kids who are all going to go on and make Taconic proud after they graduate next month,” Abel said.
And whether or not they have the opportunity to play college sports, the members of Taconic’s football team all have proven they share Walker’s gift for determination, Ziter said.
“I got here the year they were coming in,” he said, referring to Walker’s freshman season, when Taconic’s football team went 1-6. “After the first two seasons, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they left.
“But they took it upon themselves to get better. They wanted to win a Western Mass Championship. That was the goal.”