Vernon’s Matt Walker has played a ton of football, but only two seasons as a defensive back.
The B.C. Lions believe Walker to be a quick study as they selected the 21-year-old in the sixth round of the Canadian Football League draft Monday. Walker, a Vernon Panther grad who played last season with the UBC Thunderbirds, was chosen 50th overall.
“It feels phenomenal,” said Walker, an all-star quarterback with the Panthers. “The B.C. Lions are such a good organization. Their players and everybody is so dedicated. To be a part of that is pretty exciting.”
Walker and fiancée Marina Winter travelled to Vancouver for the day Monday, just in case his name was called.
“They couldn’t tell me for sure, but I was hoping on it. Either way, it was going to be an exciting day for me, whether I got drafted or not.”
They were following the draft on Winter’s cell phone, but then the battery died.
Walker told Winter: “We’re just going to leave it and enjoy our day. Whatever happens, it was meant to be.”
Added Walker: “Two minutes later, my phone rang.”
The Lions were impressed by the 6-foot, 190-pound Walker’s athleticism and skill-set at their spring camp. Head coach Mike Benevides intends to give him an audition on special teams and then go from there.
“There’s another local kid who plays into the free safety factor and (will be) a contributor to the roster,” said Benevides, on the team website. “He plays with an edge and a toughness and that’s what you want.”
Walker will now keep training on his own in preparation for a month-long rookie camp in Kamloops at the end of May. How he performs there, and in the CFL exhibition season, will largely determine where he fits with the club.
“Now I just got to make sure I’m ready. It’s the same thing I’ve always been doing,” said Walker, who underwent knee surgery in October after tweaking it last spring.
“Because I was able to keep training and keep the muscles strong, it allowed me to keep playing.”
Walker began his university football career with the Saskatchewan Huskies, but took a break to venture overseas to play in Europe with the Bratislava Monarchs. He made the switch to DB last spring when he joined the BCFC Okanagan Sun. Walker played one game with the T-Birds last fall before undergoing knee surgery.
Being relatively new to the defensive game, Walker has had to learn on the fly, but so far he has thrived on the challenge.
“It’s like a big game of cat and mouse. You’re trying to guess what the offence is doing,” he said.
“Communication is such a big deal. Being able to talk to the guys around you and do it at such a high level and at such a high speed, it’s important to be able to see things and move without sitting there and wasting time.”
Walker thanked his family, friends, high school coaches Tim Thorpe and Sean Smith, and all the organizations he has played with.
“There’s so many people. Everybody had a part and everybody helped me along the way.”