Walsh poised for big season with Bulldogs


SPORTS EDITOR


  During a somewhat promising junior campaign, Hampton's Cody Walsh proved he has the ability to leave defenders strewn about a football field like unreturned shopping carts on a grocery store parking lot.
  He did this on more than one occasion, scoring on kick returns of 96 and 86 yards, grabbing a 35-yard touchdown pass and producing runs of 56 and 39 yards.
  "I want to progress, add on to that," said the fleet-footed Walsh while discussing his goals for his senior season.
  More importantly, he wants to make the transformation from slightly above-average and modestly-used player to prolific full-time performer. His chances look good.
  "I expect him to carry a big load for us," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell. "We're going to try and do a lot of things with Cody. Cody's a big strong boy, and he's worked on the weights good and gotten stronger. It seems like he's finally seeing what it takes to do a little something -- get a little pride in it, you know."
  Entering his fourth year as the Bulldogs' place-kicker, Walsh figures to continue in his duty of returning kicks. And if everything goes according to plan, he'll have a larger role on offense, flip-flopping with Jacob Moss between tailback and receiver -- so that both players can be on the field at the same time -- and he'll be introduced to the defensive side of the ball, landing somewhere in the secondary.
  "At tailback I'd like to rush for at least 100 yards a game, and I'd like to keep returning kicks," said Walsh, whose 2003 totals included 633 all-purpose yards and four TDs. "Hopefully, on defense, we can improve our pass coverage, and maybe I can make an extra point. I was kind of off last year."
  Does the thought of doing so many tasks overwhelm the 6-1, 205-pound Walsh? Not at all.
  "I love it," he said. "I love being out there on the field, being able to play and help the team. Kickoff return is probably one of my favorite things. I just love having the open-field start -- being able to go down the field full speed. I love doing that."
  Kick returner is definitely where Walsh made his most distinguished mark as a junior. The position saw him collect a Watauga Conference high 332 yards (on nine returns) and garner first-team honors on the annual All-Carter/Johnson County team.
  And although Walsh didn't live up to his own standards on his extra-point attempts, he actually did a respectable job, converting 8 of 13.
  Certainly the most unexpected part of Walsh's '03 campaign was his emergence as Hampton's No. 1 tailback at the start of the season. Kicking the ball had been his only previous experience, and suddenly he was playing what is arguably the most glorified position in Hampton history.
  "It was definitely a big surprise because I wasn't expecting at all to be put at tailback, and I was ill-prepared for it, I guess," Walsh said. "I didn't know the plays that well. I came into it and started doing pretty well at the first of the season, then I had a few mishaps."
  Walsh's best work at tailback came in the 'Dogs' season opener, in which he cut loose for his two long runs in a 9-carry, 100-yard effort and caught a 16-yard TD toss vs. Cloudland.
  Reality, however, was not far behind. Unschooled in many of the nuances of running the ball, Walsh soon endured the typical struggles of a first-year back, settled into a three-man rotation with Moss and Zack Crabtree, and finished the slate with 235 yards on 55 carries.
  The second half of the season Walsh got quite a bit of time at receiver, and he closed out with four catches for 66 yards.
  "He didn't do up to snuff a time or two," Campbell said about Walsh at tailback. "We went with Zack, went with Moss, went with this, went with that. Really, the boy just hadn't had a chance to learn it."
  Fifteen muscle pounds heavier than he was a year ago, Walsh should be a hard man to bring down coming out of this year's backfield. He plans to run with more authority.
  "I won't be as easy to hand-tackle," he said.
  Moreover, Walsh has been able to increase his already impressive speed.
  "If we're close, he can change a game," Campbell said. "We don't get many of those type of backs. We get a lot of them old pounders."
  Ultimately, if Walsh perfects just some of the running skill two of his family members used to display, he'll make a solid impact. His dad, Teddy, and his uncle Tim Davis each held down the tailback job at Hampton, leading to an all-conference award for dad in 1975, and recognition as one of the school's all-time greatest runners for uncle, who played in the late '70s.
  "Both my dad and my uncle were just phenomenal football players," Walsh said. "I want to live up to the hype. Everybody says I run like my uncle, I look like him, I stand like him -- I'm just trying to live up to what he did."
  The outlook for Walsh sure has changed since he first joined the football team.
  "He was awful small when he came up here," Campbell said. "In fact, we were just going to use him to kick. Cody wasn't one of those that comes along that you say, 'There's going to be a good football player.' Cody was one of those that you kick off to the side and play him when you have to. And then he blossoms.
  "He's a late bloomer. He's come on strong."