Woodlawn High defensive coordinator Wendell Evers said it started out as a joke.
If Courtlen Walker has his way, opponents will be on the receiving end of the punch line.
“I was shocked they let me have him,” Evers said. “You don’t take a guy who’s one of the best offensive players you have and put him on defense. But we did.”
Walker, a senior-to-be, was a top target for now-graduated quarterback Charles Brooks for two seasons. At 5-foot-11, 215 pounds, Walker’s always looked more like a linebacker. And now he is one — a middle linebacker to be exact.
In his “spare” time Walker also may be called upon to catch a few passes for the Panthers, who are in a year of transition.
Woodlawn drops down to Class 4A after a four-year stint in 5A. Daniel Luquet is the Panthers’ first-year coach. Under those circumstances moving one player might not seem like a big deal. Luquet disagrees.
“The biggest thing for us was putting a guy in there who could pick up offense and defense,” Luquet said. “It’s hard to plug some guys in because they don’t know the game that well.
“Courtlen has been a starter on offense. He’s playing a position he tried to beat for the last two years. You have to be football smart to do that, and Courtlen is football smart.”
The key for Walker was being smart enough to understand the opportunity his coaches handed to him.
“I kind of knew the move was coming soon,” Walker said. “On defense, I knew we lost a lot of guys. We’d talked about it. Plus, I had some experience on defense from when I played youth football and my freshman year at Dunham.
“Offense — that’s my love. But I know if I want the chance to play at the next level, I’m going to have to play defense because of my size. I’m prepared for it.”
Evers is in his 30th year of coaching but also is a first-year coordinator who was seeking options. The Panthers returned just three starters: defensive tackle Issac Drury, linebacker Troy Domino and defensive back Rashawn White.
“We graduated some talented guys, and it’s not like the guys we have left don’t have any (skills, experience),” Evers said. “We’ve got some guys who came up through the program, and they’ve been waiting for their chance. What we needed was a guy in the middle, the mike linebacker position, and Courtlen is that guy.
“He’s embraced what we’ve asked him to do. Some guys wouldn’t, and they’d pout. Courtlen isn’t a selfish player. He’ll sell concessions if we asked him to.”
Any concerns Evers had about Walker learning his new position were alleviated earlier this week when the WHS coaches put a group of freshmen through their paces.
Learning the gap exchanges with linemen is one of the toughest things for a linebacker to learn. Walker stepped in to help the coaches instruct the young linebackers on which gap reads to make.
The position change means that Walker isn’t likely to have a game with nine catches for 185 yards like he did last year against East Ascension. But he’s fine with that.
“We really do have something to prove,” Walker said. “I feel like people are taking us for granted because our line is smaller physically and we graduated so much.
“Defense is harder than offense. On offense, you always know where you’re going. On defense, you’re guessing and moving where the play is. You have to be in the best shape, so you can adjust. I like that challenge.”
Evers pointed out Walker will be the first two-way player the Panthers have had in a few years, depending on his offensive role.
“We’ve had some unique athletes for sure, but how often do you have a wide receiver-mike linebacker? Not often,” Evers said. “You’d have to go back to the old days at Woodlawn when Tommy Garcia was the quarterback-nose guard.
“Because he’s a wide receiver, he knows the routes and reads things a little more differently. He knows what to look for.
“He’s a rare hybrid.”