North Carroll's Nate Walker has always been a risk-taker. When he was a child, he was never too shy to try daring tricks with his skateboard or fantastic dives into the swimming pool.
Now, as a senior stopper for the Panthers soccer team, Walker continues to lay it on the line, time and again creating scoring opportunities for his teammates with an acrobatic, forward-flip throw-in that can travel 40 yards in the air. Last year, the defender racked up six assists, earning second-team All-County honors and helping lead his team to the Class 3A state final.
Now, Walker is one of the leaders of a young team that was hit hard by graduation. He's also dealing with the potential season-ending concussion suffered by close friend and teammate Cody Ditzel last week.
You went through what had to be a frightening incident last week, watching your friend and teammate, Cody Ditzel, be airlifted from the field during the game against Liberty. What was going through your mind?
It was terrible, because he had already been flown out once earlier this year. So as soon as I saw him on the ground, breathing heavy, I almost lost it. It was bad.
You said it was the second time he had been flown out. What happened the first time?
It was a concussion during an indoor game. I went to the emergency room to see how he was doing, and he couldn't even remember me. That's how extensive it was.
You and Cody were the only two senior starters back from last season. With him out of the mix, does that change your role on the team? Do you have to be even more of a leader to your younger teammates?
[We] work really well together in the back. We have a bond. With him missing - that's like the big link, but it should be filled. I'm going to try to step up and do the best I can.
You said you've known Cody since rec ball. How long have you played soccer?
My mom actually told me that she lied to the rec council when I was four years old so that I could play, because I was so antsy.
Has soccer always been your main sport?
Yeah. I play baseball, too, but soccer is my thing.
What is it that you like more about soccer than baseball?
The pace of the game, really. Baseball is more standing around. But soccer, you've got that constant movement, and that's the kind of kid I am. I'm never sitting still in the first place.
You have an amazing flip throw-in. What prompted you to try that?
It's kind of funny. I watched the movie The Big Green, and I saw the flip throw there. I think it was at under-10s when I first tried it, and I almost broke my neck. But I just kept trying it. Eventually, I could do it, but it wouldn't go too far. My freshman year, that's when it really started to progress. That year, I could do it from the sideline to the goal mouth, and now I can do it close to our 40 into the goal mouth.
Was there ever a point where someone said to you, "Look, you're going to hurt yourself doing this. Just stop it"?
Well, my under-10 coach told me not to do it. He said that it really didn't help that much. It just looked cool. But the coaches in high school really like it, especially [varsity coach Denny Snyder]. He says it changes the whole flow of the game because it's like a corner kick every time.
I'd imagine you would have to be an extremely coordinated person to consistently pull off such an acrobatic move. Have you always been able to do moves like that?
Yeah. I was the crazy kid growing up, and I would just try anything. I can do back flips and front flips, so that's not really much for me at all. It helps me throw the ball so much farther, since I've got so much momentum going forward.
What other kinds of stunts did you try growing up?
I would do double front flips into the pool, and made a couple movies with my friends, just doing dumb stuff. One time I took a skateboard off a roof, though that probably wasn't the smartest thing. Nothing bad came of it, but it looked funny.
Would you like to play in college?
Yes. I haven't applied anywhere yet, but I'm hoping to either get into Towson or a good school closer to home. As long as I'm playing soccer, then I'm happy.