PITTSFIELD — Four years ago, when Jim Ziter took over a doormat Taconic Football program, he brought along a sizable crop of underclassmen on the varsity roster.
That original roster in Ziter’s first year didn’t include the name Devon Walker. He was a freshman in the stands watching the Braves Week 1 victory over St. Joseph. On the field were a bunch of his classmates and friends, guys he grew up playing football with.
So, a week later, Walker decided to pick football back up and join his buddies on Ziter’s sidelines. A year later, after a three-touchdown performance against Drury, Ziter told reporters he felt his sophomore receiver had the best hands in the County.
Four years later, the kid that thought he’d pass on high school football found a new love for the game and the work and translated that into a commitment to Division I St. Francis University.
Walker announced his commitment a few weeks ago, opting to chase a dream that seemed foreign not long before. After earning All-Berkshire honors as a junior and senior and helping the Braves to become a real thriving program once more, he had toyed with the idea of playing college football at some D3 schools like St. Anselm or AIC.
However, while working summer camps and in the gym at the Boys & Girls Club, a bunch of the City’s youth regaled him with tales and dreams of themselves playing at Duke and Alabama.
“When I was deciding, I was stuck. I didn’t know whether I should push it to the highest level possible or kind of settle somewhere I know,” said Ziter. “I was kind of like, if they can still dream, why shouldn’t I push myself.”
The Red Flash will return star wide-out Kamron Lewis and were looking to fill in the corps around him with younger guys when they stumbled upon Walker’s senior season.
“They actually came in very late. They got a hold of my film from a recruiting site,” said Walker. “I got to know the coach and went down for a visit and just kind of fell in love with the school.”
He hauled him 20 catches for over 600 yards last season, including seven for touchdowns. While returning for his junior season, Walker underwent a growth-spurt and started working out daily with QB and good friend Jake McNeice.
“I was here, as soon as it gets nice out, I’ll be back here. We’ve been here every day the last three years,” said Walker while walking across the high school field at Taconic. “The Ziters wanted to make passing a big part of the offense because nobody really passes that much out here. As soon as Jake got the QB job the end of sophomore year, we were out here every day.”
All that hard work on a daily basis wound up earning Taconic a Western Mass championship this past fall. Walker connected with McNeice three times in the title game for 137 yards and two scores.
“Chances like that don’t come around very often, especially to be out there with your best friends,” said Walker. “You’ve just got to play in the moment, but that team was special.”
Walker has pushed himself since picking the sport back up four years ago. There isn’t much passing in youth football, especially, as Walker says, when kids as skilled and big as Anthony Whiteley are around.
Berkshire County High School Football is renowned in Western Mass as a smash-mouth, grinding in the trenches style of running offenses. Walker had to work to earn looks and touches and then perform in order to keep them.
All those extra days and all that hard work gave Ziter the trust to call a play like the one that went down as a 72-yard pass down the sideline late in the third quarter of the title game. The Braves were down 29-24 and on the previous possession Longmeadow had intercepted a pass. However, on first-and-10 from their own 24, Walker burned his man on the outside for a big gain.
Three plays later, he snared a five-yard TD pass that would go down as the game-winner.