Playing for the ultrasuccessful Soldotna High School football team has prepared Trevor Walden for competition at the next level, but that does not tell the whole story of the SoHi senior’s move to college ball.
Walden verbally committed to the College of Idaho — a small private school located in Caldwell, Idaho, about 25 miles west of Boise — Sunday after returning from an all-expenses-paid trip to the campus.
The Coyotes compete in the Frontier Conference at the NAIA level, and Walden impressed the Idaho coaching staff enough to receive a full tuition offer of $25,500, close to three times the amount of the average offer.
Walden, who played tight end and defensive end for Soldotna, will be given the opportunity to compete for a starting spot right away at defensive end, Walden’s specialty. The two-time Alaska medium-schools Defensive Player of the Year will be pursuing a degree in kinesiology.
Walden holds the distinction of being the only Soldotna player that has started in each of the state-record 39 straight games that the Stars have won since 2012.
“Coming from a team that won so much, and going into a program that’s building up, it has a lot of potential,” Walden said via phone on Tuesday. “I like to win, I’ve come up winning, so I’m not going to take a step back.”
Idaho reinstated its football program in 2014 after a 37-year hiatus, and last year finished out a 4-7 season with an upset victory over six-time NAIA national champions Carroll College (Montana). Walden said the rise of the program coupled with the good vibes he felt after touring the campus helped make his decision for him. The school’s football games also often attract around 4,500 fans, one of the biggest attendances in NAIA football.
Another reason to join the Coyotes lies with the coaching staff. Adam Byrne, the assistant linebackers coach, is a 2008 Skyview graduate that has strong ties with current Soldotna football coach Galen Brantley Jr. Plus, Idaho head coach Mike Moroski is a former pro quarterback with a resume that includes a touchdown pass to NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. With a staff like that, Walden knew he was in good hands.
Brantley Jr. said he believes Walden found the right school, and likewise, Idaho found the right player.
“I think Trevor’s a special player and special young man, and we’re all excited,” Brantley Jr. said.
The journey to becoming a college player has had its obstacles. Last Feb. 25, Walden suffered a broken back in a weightlifting accident, an injury that initially seemed to rule him out for the fall football season.
Brantley Jr. arrived at the weight room in the moments following the accident, and said after hearing the diagnosis, his prognosis on Walden playing most of the season was grim.
“It was tough when it happened,” Brantley Jr. said. “I had a kid come to my classroom and tell me he was hurt, and I held his hand and helped carry him out with the EMTs.
“I was crushed. I knew it wasn’t good. When we found out it was broke, I honestly thought his season was over.”
But his season was far from over. Walden spent four days a week in physical therapy trying to heal from it.
“I had to wear a turtle shell brace for a while, and then a soft shell brace for another month,” Walden said.
In a twist of irony, Walden wore the brace for 99 days exactly, matching his jersey number.
Three weeks before SoHi’s season opener against South Anchorage, a highly anticipated matchup that would give the Stars a state-record 30th straight victory if they won, Walden approached his physical therapist Jason Buckbee about starting the game, and after some wrangling, Buckbee agreed to letting Walden take the field with Buckbee on the sideline.
“Even in summer rehab, I didn’t think he’d play, or if he did, he’d be a shell of himself,” Brantley Jr. said.
Walden not only started the game, but he caught a touchdown pass early in the game that helped spur SoHi to the 21-17 win. Walden also recorded two sacks on defense and forced a fumble.
“It just goes to show the determination and perseverance of a young guy that didn’t want to give up on his dream,” Brantley Jr. said.
Walden praised the support from Buckbee for helping him make the return. He also thanked his parents, Brian and Krystal Walden, for years of support for their son.