Vernon’s Matt Walker

Vernon’s Matt Walker

Walker works defensive transition

Vernon's Matt Walker excels in new role as defensive back with Okanagan Sun.

With a daily quota of 6,000 calories, it is not a stretch to imagine Vernon’s Matt Walker as a beefy offensive lineman.

He can burn half that amount in a single workout, so instead, the six-foot, 195-pounder looks fit and trim as a defensive back.

“I’m there to work, not to talk,” said Walker, of his penchant for pushing himself in the gym. “My friends know this is something I try to focus on, and do all the right things and train as hard as I can.

“With football, you get dinged up so it’s basically all about making sure everything is feeling right and ready to go.”

Walker’s natural athleticism and dedication to fitness helped him earn top marks at the recent B.C. Lions’ combine in Vancouver. He tested first out of all the attending defensive back prospects, including college, junior and free agent invites.

What makes this recognition somewhat surprising, even to Walker, is that he has only played on the defensive side of the ball for half a season with the B.C. Football Conference’s Okanagan Sun. In high school, he was a standout quarterback with the VSS Panthers, and then switched to receiver when he joined the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for two years.

When the Sun lost their safety to injury mid-season, it opened up a space in their backfield. Walker begrudgingly accepted the assignment at first, but ended up enjoying his newfound role.

“It turns out I love it, and I’ve been training for it ever since,” he beamed. “I’m still pretty new at it but apparently I’m doing pretty well.”

In five games, he recorded 10 tackles, one sack and one interception. He also took on return duties, averaging 17.5 yards on six kickoffs, and 8.5 yards on 11 punts.

Regarding the combine testing, Walker said: “I knew I’d test really well for my numbers, but my one-on-ones and my footwork might not be exactly there.

“That part I was a little worried about, but it turned out pretty well. I was still in the right spots for the most part, and I got lots of good coaching from (Lions) d-backs’ coach, Mark Washington.”

All it took was a 10-minute conversation with Washington to help Walker gain a better understanding of playing the opposite role.

“Everything that you’ve trained for, it’s all backwards now. But once you get that, it’s a big thing,” he said. “Playing receiver, it helps me understand why I do certain things being a defensive back. As a receiver, if I know to be in one spot, as a d-back, I can understand why and know where to be to stop that.”

Tyler McLaren, a junior recruiter for the Lions, helped the CFL club create an invite pool of about 20 junior players for the combine. He says Walker’s raw athleticism and background in track and field, helped get his name on the list. He says technique will come with a little seasoning in the BCFC.

“As soon as you hear track stuff, you know somebody has athleticism and is gifted in the speed department,” said McLaren, who also works with the BCFC Langley Big Kahuna Rams. “It shows; you could watch Matt run and know full well that he’s obviously got some time in the track department.

“Athletically, he’s on par with guys that are playing in college. Half the battle is being able to perform well with times and testing results to get a future opportunity.”

Because he played with the Huskies last season, Walker is ineligible to attend the Lions’ rookie camp at the end of the month. He will first have to go through the 2013 CFL draft and decide what to do after that.

“What he wanted to do at this camp was get on the radar and then play the season with the Okanagan Sun,” said McLaren. “He might be in the conversation if he keeps getting bigger, stronger, faster. They have a name to the face.

“Based on how he tested and how he performed and handled himself, if there wasn’t a draft, there would have been a good opportunity he would have been invited (to rookie camp).”

In between the Huskies and the Sun, Walker ventured overseas to play with the Bratislava Monarchs in a newly formed league in Slovakia.

“You’d play football games with castles in the backgrounds. It was pretty unreal,” he grinned.

“They’re really starting to get into football over there. It’s still kind of in the making. They used to have NFL Europe, but that got shut down.”