The long haul

Acquisition of Walker proof D3 recruiting a different game

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

A year after losing Brad Walker to a Division II scholarship school, Tony Ierulli is getting his man.

The Maryville College football coach got a little something extra in his stocking over Christmas when Walker informed him he was leaving Lenoir-Rhyne College after a season and transferring to Maryville. Walker, a 1,000-yard rusher his senior year at William Blount High School a year ago, is currently enrolled at Maryville and will take part in spring drills in March.

Being closer to 3-year-old daughter Chloe drove him to make the change, Walker said.

"That’s the main reason I came back," he said. "By the time I graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne, she’d be 6 years old. I started thinking about it. I realized how busy I was going to be up there (with football). I’d never get the chance to come home and
see her."

As national signing day came and went on Wednesday, Blount County had three area players — Maryville’s Tyler Maples (Tennessee), Alcoa’s Rae Sykes (Tennessee or Florida State) and Kyrus Lanxter (West Virginia or Kentucky) — scheduled to sign with Division I colleges. A fourth, Alcoa’s Chris Shiverdecker, was actively pursued by Kentucky before verbally committing to Division II Carson-Newman College a week ago. A fifth, Maryville power back Adrian "Tank" Baker, was scheduled to sign with Division I-AA Furman University.

National signing day, for the most part, concludes the recruiting season for Division I and II programs. After wooing prospects for much of the fall and early winter, it’s time to time to take a breather. Division III programs like Maryville, on the other hand, are only getting started.

"Division I recruiting is almost like a sprint," Ierulli said. "It’s high intensity, high effort.

"Division III recruiting isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon."

In many ways, the successful, albeit delayed, acquisition of Walker is typical of the long-term effort required to lure prospects to the Division III level.

The national letters of intent Maples, Sykes and the rest signed on Wednesday don’t exist at Division III. High school players can announce a decision to attended Maryville and begin the necessary paperwork — as Alcoa linemen Corey Brewer and Justin Dunkin did on Wednesday. Nothing is truly settled, though, until a player attends his first class this fall.

"Most of the kids come to us around the end of February and the beginning of March," Ierulli said. "That’s when our financial packages come out. Those guys that signed (with Maryville on Wednesday) had a pretty good grasp of the kinds of academic scholarships they’re going to receive and what grants are available."

In securing the majority of freshmen who’ll dawn Maryville uniforms this fall, the battle has only begun.

"We start shutting down our recruiting at the end of April, beginning of May," Ierulli said. "I still have 127 names I’m actively recruiting, and that’s just Tennessee. Florida’s still coming."

Most significant to recruiting at the Division III level is the absence of athletic scholarships. Even with academic grants, the debt amassed after four years at a private, liberal arts institution such as Maryville can be substantial.

To counter, Ierulli said he must first sell the school to a prospect. A football program on the rise, he then hopes, will close the deal.

"They (recruits) realize our job here is not to produce NFL football players," he said. "Our job is to prepare the next generation of doctors, lawyers and accountants.

"There’s also the chance to play early in your career. There are a lot of schools we recruit against that have 200 players on their football team. You’re talking a four-deep depth chart (at Maryville) vs. one eight- or nine-deep."

Such a scenario, along with the need to spend more time with Chloe, played a role in convincing Walker it was time to come home.

The high-speed back was one of Blount County’s crown jewels in recruiting a year ago. The dashing Governor won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes at the county track and field championships in the spring of 2006. A running back on the William Blount football team, he was a player Ierulli wanted badly.

"It was a battle between us and Lenoir-Rhyne a year ago," he said.

Walker played in eight games for the Bears in 2006, carrying 20 times for 62 yards and a pair of scores. Injury prevented the former Governor from taking part in all 11 games for the Hickory, N.C., school.

Minutes in future seasons were likely to come with the Bears typically requiring a stable of backs to power their ground-oriented attack. It was not, however, at so large a program, a guarantee.

Balanced against family responsibility, along with chance to reunite with some of his William Blount teammates at Maryville, made the decision to return to Blount County easier, Walker said.

Former Governor Lucas Wall will be a Maryville sophomore this fall and the leading contender for the start at quarterback, with William Blount graduate Brian Wendell, also a rising sophomore, high on the depth chart at center.

To pursue his football hopes at Maryville, Walker said he’s willing to make the switch to defense as a Scot if necessary.
The former wing-T back was one of William Blount’s top stoppers on defense as a Governor as well.

"I don’t care to play defense," he said. "I just want an opportunity to play running back. I just want a chance to play."

Maryville got a big year from freshman Rommel Hightower last season, with the Lenoir City native rushing for 650 yards and 11 scores while averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Hightower and Walker are similar in many respects, not the least of which being the kinds of players that thrive at a school like Maryville.

The 5-foot-9, 193-pound Hightower was undervalued coming out of high school, much as Walker was a year ago. It’s those kinds of players that go on to big things at Maryville, Ierulli said. The Scots skipper cites Maryville All-American defensive end Colby Townsend and all-conference linebacker Chris Howerton as examples.

"What happens are those guys come out of high school and they’re still underdeveloped," he said. "Identifying those kids that are good athletes and knowing they’re going to fill out is key."

Walker is sure to add much to a Maryville team that finished 5-5 last season. Two Scot losses were by three points, a third, to rival Sewanee, coming by a touchdown.

"We’re an up and coming team, and we’ve got good football players," said Ierulli, who’ll begin his fourth season at Maryville this fall. "This is the first year we don’t have to talk about rebuilding any more (during recruiting). We can talk about
competing for a championship."

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