AURORA – Junior defensive end Jonah Walker gradually eclipsed the Aurora Christian football program’s single-season sacks record this fall.
Addressing his breakthrough, Walker credits a skill that’s much less subtle.
“A lot of it’s my speed,” Walker said. “Off the ball, I’m really fast, and I’ve been working at that a lot this offseason. Developing that has made me a lot better.”
Walker enters Saturday’s IHSA Class 3A quarterfinal against visiting Winnebago with nine sacks, attacking opposing quarterbacks alongside a defense coach Don Beebe calls the program’s best in his nine seasons.
Aurora Christian (10-1) has outscored opponents, 500-129, and has a recent history of runaways against the 9-2 Indians.
The Eagles thumped Winnebago, 48-13, in the quarterfinals last season en route to the 3A state title.
Walker contributed to that run as a defensive starter for the second half of the 2011 season. He was slated to start on both lines – at left end and left tackle – before tearing ligaments in his left ankle during a “Wrestlemania” drill at the Eagles’ midnight madness practice signaling the first day of full-contact workouts.
Walker, 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, tangled with 6-4, 258-pounder Josh Kok, now a senior and a two-way starter at defensive end and left tackle.
The object was to be the first Eagle to pin the other to the ground.
Kok technically emerged the winner, although the most important result arguably was his unblemished rapport with Walker after the accident.
Part of the pair’s relationship is friendly competition. Asked about Walker’s nine sacks – one more than the former standard shared by graduates Peter Kariotis and Dean Griffing – Kok quickly noted he was within striking distance with six.
“I’m only three behind Jonah,” Kok said. “I’m going to catch him – I’m determined – by the end of the year. But he’s pretty good. He’s been training a lot in the offseason and it’s really working out.”
Already conditioned from track training, Walker resumed his diligence in the weight room and with cardiovascular workouts.
Beebe has noticed a spark throughout the season. It didn’t flicker out last week.
With Aurora Christian leading Immaculate Conception, 28-14, in the closing minutes of the teams’ second-round game in Elmhurst, Walker forced a fumble that middle linebacker Joel Bouagnon recovered at the Immaculate Conception 40-yard line.
While IC notched an interception on the ensuing play and scored moments later, Walker did his part to keep the Knights from tying the game, bringing pressure on a last-second, desperation pass. The Eagles held on, 28-21.
“It’s Jonah’s attitude and effort that really stand out,” Beebe said.
Commuting from Yorkville, Walker faces an extra crunch on many nights.
He’s typically not one to procrastinate with homework, as his classroom work ethic mirrors his weight room approach.
“I put in a lot of work in the offseason. From then, I knew I was going to give it my hardest, and seeing how much I progressed from my sophomore year, you know, I felt like it was going to be a good season,” Walker said.
He hopes it isn’t going to be finished until Thanksgiving weekend. For Walker, it’s 10 wins, nine sacks and counting.