Last Friday night many 13-year-olds were home playing video games or at the movies or somewhere hanging out with friends and being carefree. Evan Walker was busy calling signals, trying to read defensive coverages and going through his progressions as a quarterback in a high school football game.
Lookout Valley coach Tony Webb needed someone to play quarterback in the season-opening game at Midway. Returning starter Vann Scribner had to sit out a game because of his involvement in a fight last Nov. 11 in Lookout Valley's Class 1A state-playoff loss at Coalfield.
Walker, a 5-foot-9, 136-pound eighth-grader in size-13 shoes, came to the rescue and helped the Yellow Jackets earn a 24-0 victory. Several longtime followers of high school football throughout the state were contacted, and none could specifically recall an eighth-grader starting a high school varsity game at quarterback.
"He's a mature kid and a good student," Webb said. "He doesn't come across as a normal eighth-grader. The guys really like him. He fits right in. He's like a little brother. They know what he did last Friday. He kind of saved us there."
Walker admitted the upperclassmen give him a hard time every once in a while but "nothing to cry about."
"He's been working out with us the whole summer," senior middle linebacker and offensive tackle Levi Wallace said. "For an eighth-grader, Evan has got a big arm. He's been accepted by the whole team. He took command in the huddle the other night pretty quick. By the performance he had, I'd say everybody's got a good bit of trust in him."
Knowing Scribner wouldn't be available for the opener, Webb said he began studying his options at quarterback back in the spring. He considered putting Jamal Jones there, but that meant not having him at running back, where he was an all-state performer last season.
Webb ultimately approached Walker about it. He also had to sell the idea to Walker's mother, Stormi Rogers.
"We gave him the choice if he wanted to play with us, which meant giving up his eighth-grade year in middle school where he would've been the guy," Webb said. "That's a big sacrifice."
Walker, who won't turn 14 until Jan. 11, said he likely would have played running back on the middle school team. He likes quarterback better, and by playing up he'll at least get to play there in the junior varsity games.
"I really want to get back out there," Walker said. "What I learned is to keep my focus and not let nerves get in the way. Just play the game."
The trip from Lookout Valley to Kingston covered almost 90 miles and probably seemed like more to Walker. The coaches deliberately kept their distance from him. He sat next to his buddy Riley Phillips, a seventh-grader who plays on the middle school team and is a ball boy for the high school team.
Walker doesn't even remember the first play call. For the record Webb said it was "Right weak 24 tag" -- a counter play that went 60 yards for a touchdown.
"I was so nervous," Walker said. "All I know is I handed it off to Jamal and let him run with it."
Webb was purposely protective of his young quarterback, who ended up 3-of-4 passing with a touchdown included.
"We throw more than four times a game, but especially in a game-one setting, you don't want to turn the ball over," the coach said. "We had one turnover, which wasn't even his. They had five. Obviously that made a big difference."
It turned out Walker's nervousness didn't compare to that of his mother, who left work early to make sure she was there before kickoff. She confessed to wearing out a piece of gum during the game.
"I was a nervous wreck," Rogers said. "He never let on that he was nervous. During warmups before the game he was laughing and joking around with his teammates. That put me at ease a little bit. Once he threw that touchdown, my whole world stopped for a minute. I was so proud of him."
Although Scribner, a senior, will be back for tonight's 7:30 home opener against Chattanooga Christian, Walker could still end up a four-year starter at quarterback at Lookout Valley. On second thought, make that 4.1 years.
"Evan is not an emotional player," Webb said. "We've got those guys. Vann is very emotional. Vann is a rah-rah guy. Evan is real introverted. It's kind of neat to see that kind of player. I wouldn't worry about playing him against anybody. You're always one play away."
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.