By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Three years ago, Absegami football coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. threw freshman Alex Walk right into the fire during preseason practice. He wanted to see what kind of player he had on his hands, so he put him at offensive guard and told him to go ahead and try to block Chris Henchy and Abdullah Anderson. Both of those players are big, strong dudes who currently play college football, Henchy at Rowan University and Anderson at Bucknell.
If that wasn’t enough to scare Walk away, Scuderi figured he might have something.
“When he came in as a freshman, we knew what he was and we knew he was going to be a really good player. Early on, we knew what we had. He was pretty dominant in the freshman games and we knew he was going to be a cornerstone for the next couple of years. As a sophomore, he was a kid we plugged right into that left tackle spot and we knew he was going to be a really good player. He was all-conference last year as a junior, and this year I think he has a chance to be all-South Jersey,” Scuderi said. “We moved him this year to be the centerpiece of our defense. He’s been a three-year starter for us and is a team captain. He’s definitely been one of our best leaders this year because he’s a guy who everybody respects and is a tremendously hard worker. He’s just a good overall kid to be around.”
“When I was a freshman, I wasn’t that good. But then, sophomore year, I started playing with the older kids and something got me wanting to play harder,” Walk said. “I think putting me at a middle linebacker gave me more of an opportunity to make plays. At defensive line I could only really stop the run. Now, at linebacker, I can make plays all over the field. I played the position when I was about 12, and when coach told me (about the switch) I really didn’t believe him. But I started to learn it and I’m more comfortable with it now. I just wanted to help the team out. We have a lot of defensive linemen we can substitute in, but not too many linebackers, so I think that’s why the move was made.”
Absegami faced a tough early season schedule in its first year in the West Jersey Football League’s Independence Division, as the Braves had to take on a pair of defending state champions — Cedar Creek and St. Joseph — in the first three weeks. After a 35-7 loss to St. Joe on Sept. 24, Absegami was just 1-2. But the Braves put together a three-game winning streak, beating Eastern, Ocean City and Triton, to put themselves in position to make the state playoffs. That’s something Walk said he’d love to experience before he graduates next spring. And with junior quarterback Andrew Marcucci and senior running back Ifreke Andy playing well, the Braves have the talent to not only make the playoffs, but be a factor in the postseason as well.
“I knew we were going to be good, but the first couple of games were kind of shaky. But now, everybody is starting to believe in each other. It all starts with Andrew. I really like the way he’s been playing. And Ifreke is a great running back. When he gets into the open field, nobody is going to catch him. I love blocking for him, because he makes me look good,” Walk said. “I know I’m going to be pretty emotional at the end of the season, but we just have to keep pushing for a playoff berth. I know we’re in the hunt right now and a playoff game would be huge. Ever since I’ve been at Absegami, we’ve never had a playoff game, so that would mean a lot to me. I would love to feel the atmosphere of a high school playoff game. I think it would mean a lot to coach Scuderi, too. He’s been fighting to get us there.”
Walk (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) has been a staple at left tackle throughout his career at Absegami on the offensive side, and this year coach Scuderi decided to switch him from defensive end to middle linebacker to help with the rebuilding process. That move has paid off, as in the last three games the Braves have allowed just 17 points.
“He really had a great end of the year last year defensively, and we knew we were losing a lot on defense so we were going to have to build around him. He played a lot of defensive end but he’s so athletic. I said to our defensive staff, ‘what if we moved him to the middle linebacker position?’ We felt that by putting him in the middle of the defense, it would be much harder for people to run away from him,” Scuderi said. “For us, it’s been a huge benefit. He just makes play after play. And even when he’s not making the play, he’s drawing enough attention to open other guys up. He’s very unselfish. If his job is to draw a double-team, he never tries to do too much. He always stays within the framework of what we’re trying to do.”
The offensive line hasn’t been too shabby either. Running behind guys such as Matt Bird, R.J. Rodriguez, Antonio Rodriguez, Syhee Glover and Walk, Andy has been one of the top running backs in the area this year. He had a career-high 250 yards in Absegami’s 27-14 win over Ocean City. And that all starts with Walk at left tackle. Not only does he pave the way for Andy, but he also helps protect Marcucci’s blind side during passing plays.
Walk said playing both sides of the ball and rarely coming off the field suits him just fine.
“I’ve been doing it since sophomore year. The first couple of games, I lose my breath a little bit, but I’m used to it by now, being on the field for pretty much every play,” Walk said. “My sophomore year, we started mostly all sophomores on the offensive line. So, I knew by our senior year we would be pretty good and be able to run the ball. Ifreke has really helped us out, and now we are where we are.”
Scuderi said that’s just the kind of kid Walk is. Whatever a coach asks him to do, he’ll do it because he knows the coaching staff has the overall success of the team first and foremost in their minds.
“Alex is so unselfish, and I can’t stress that enough. He’s a really great kid to be around outside of football, too. He’s one of those kids who comes to practice every day, works hard and never complains,” Scuderi said. “And he has a mean streak to him. On the field, he’s pretty fiery. He’s a kid who is going to be physical, and I wish every kid was like that. He’s a pleasure to coach, and it’s nice to have that leadership. One of the reasons we are having more success this year is because our senior leadership is really good. The kids respect them. We have a solid group of kids who are all in it for each other.”
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN