By Vince Little, The BayonetFebruary 25, 2010
Columbus High School's Ian Walker gave up his senior season of football to focus more on wrestling this winter. It paid off in a state championship.
Walker captured the Class AAA heavyweight title Saturday by edging Shaw's Greggory Goosby 3-2 in the 285-pound final of the state tournament at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth, Ga. After not even placing a year ago, he became the area's lone state champion in 2010.
"It feels great. I wanted to come back and make an impact ... I worked hard, worked out right, and it paid off for me taking the break from football," Walker said.
"Being able to say I worked hard and earned this achievement is really a blessing. It's something I really wanted this past year. I'm really excited I was able to achieve it," said the son of Laura and CSM Matthew Walker, who stepped down last week as command sergeant major of the U.S. Army Infantry School.
Eight other wrestlers from the Chattahoochee Valley area reached the finals but lost. As a team, Columbus took fifth in the Class AAA standings with 113 points.
Walker, who went 5-0 in the three-day tournament, said he didn't realize how close he was until moving into the semifinals against Kendrick rival Corie Wilson.
"I thought, 'Wow, I'm two matches away from winning state,'" Walker said. "But I knew how to wrestle him, how to handle myself around him. I was feeling confident."
And that carried over into the finals against Goosby, whom he'd already beaten three times this season, including a Jan. 30 victory for the city championship.
"I knew I just had to wrestle smart, and I'd pull out a win," Walker said.
Walker played football for three years at Columbus but said he was inspired to devote all his time to the mat after attending a wrestling camp last summer at Edinboro (Pa.) University hosted by Bruce Baumgartner, a four-time Olympic medalist. The sport's individual aspect appealed to him.
"Whether I win or lose, it's all on me," he said.
Walker weighed just 215 pounds as a sophomore and again was considered undersized when he qualified for the state tournament last year - when he peaked at about 250.
Realizing he needed to add bulk to become a legitimate heavyweight contender at the state level, Walker said he began eating more and increased his weightlifting. The conditioning regimen also included early-morning runs.
"I weighed in around 270 this past weekend," he said. "It's a big difference in the heavyweight bracket, where you can weigh between 215 and 285."
Walker's mental preparation also was sharper this time around. He said it didn't hurt that several top grapplers from last year's state championships graduated in 2009.
"I was still expecting a very difficult tournament (and) it was pretty intense," he said. "I went up there with big hopes, and I guess it paid off."
Walker was 36-4 overall this season. All four losses came against Upson-Lee's Logan Winkles, who won the 285-pound state title in Class AAAA. He said the two became friends and were warm-up partners at last week's tournament.
This spring, he'll throw the shot put and discus for the Blue Devils' track and field team.
After graduation, Walker will follow his father into the military. He's set to attend Georgia Southern University this fall on an Army ROTC scholarship and plans to major in chemistry.
"It'll definitely be a new chapter," he said. "I guess it won't be as much of a shock to me, since I've been around the Army my whole life. I've seen what Soldiers have to go through. I know how to play the game, so when I get there, hopefully it'll be an easier transition for me."