Walker High sets sights on becoming big-time program under Mahaffey
If you want to rise to being a championship caliber program, hiring a championship coach is an excellent first step.
Walker took that step by hiring University High head coach Chad Mahaffey as its new head coach.
Mahaffey cultivated a brilliant program at U-High, posting a 102-15 record with three state championships in nine seasons, including the last two in Division II. The Cubs won 26 straight games in 2017-18. Mahaffey spent one season at Vermilion Catholic as head coach as well, posting a 4-5 mark.
At Walker, Mahaffey takes over for Cecil Walker, who left to take over as head coach at Sulphur.
The Wildcats have never won a state title but have been a good program.
In 2018, Walker went 8-3, falling to Hahnville in the playoffs. The Wildcats have reached the playoffs the past three seasons but have failed to win a playoff game. Last season was trying as Walker had a coaching change after the season was underway, making it a tumultuous year. Stability has been restored.
“I think it’s one of those programs that can be a major power in the state,” Mahaffey said. “If you are look around at the 5A level, the schools that are successful are community-based with a solid population and community support and are good academic schools. That is what Walker is. The population is blowing up and I think it will be one of the largest schools in the state. I felt really good about the opportunity.”
Mahaffey must replace three key players in the secondary, along with a few others.
Offensively, four starters return, including senior quarterback Ethan McMasters (6-0, 175) and senior running back Demetri Wright (5-9, 210). Senior Keondre Brown (5-11, 220) could play as well, despite being a starting linebacker.
“We feel Ethan can have an outstanding year for us,” Mahaffey said. “He picks up the offense well, can move around with his feet and is a pretty smart young man. He can keep plays alive and he knows where to go with the ball. Demetri is a senior and he played a lot last year. Keondre Brown started as a linebacker but he has ability to play running back as well. Both have good ability to be very good.”
Returning to anchor the wide receiving corps is junior Brian Thomas (6-4, 190). He is joined by juniors Peyton Richard (5-8, 160), Josh Spitzer (5-11, 170) and Jasper Turner (5-9, 155). Richard has looked quite good heading into the fall.
“Brian is a junior with size,” Mahaffey said. “He is really explosive. He is a tough cover with natural ability to go up and get the ball when contested. I’ve been impressed with him. He is learning to be a better route runner. The sky is the limit for him. Peyton Richard did not play a lot last year but he has stood out for us. He had a great spring and summer.”
The offensive line is a work in progress with just one starter returning in senior center Tim Lawson (6-2, 280). The other starters are all new, including guards Zach Zimm (6-0, 310) and Garret Wilson (5-10, 240). The tackles are junior Mitchell Gallman (6-0, 225) and sophomore Ethan Ladner (6-1, 220).
“We have just one returning starter in Lawson, who has good size,” Mahaffey said. “The rest of the buys will be capable. We have six or seven guys competing to play, including underclassmen. I think it is a bright spot in the future but there will be inexperience early.”
Five starters return on defense, including senior defensive end Dakota Wilson (6-1, 220). The other defensive end is senior Tristan Thompson (6-0, 225) while a pair of seniors will start at the tackle spots in Dylan Sharp (6-3, 240) and Justin Thomas (5-10, 230).
“We have the most ability to rotate guys up front on defense,” Mahaffey said. “Dakota played end and linebacker last year. He has versatility. He uses his hands really well. I really like him. He can be an H-Back for us on offense as well.”
Both starting linebackers were starters a year ago in seniors Brown and Zach Lacour (6-2, 180), who started at defensive end last season. Senior Roger Brooks should contribute as well.
“Lacour played defensive end last year and he runs pretty well,” Mahaffey said. “He looked pretty good at linebacker in the spring and can play with a standing up or with a hand down.”
There is experience in the secondary with cornerback Kobie Moncree (6-1, 175) and senior strong safety Kerry Flowers (6-1, 180). The others starters include junior corner Marcus Dukes (5-10, 170), senior strong safety Kerry Flowers (6-1, 180) and senior free safety Aubrey Womack (6-2, 190). Junior Jesse James could also start.
“We have experience in some spots and not in others,” Mahaffey said. “Moncree played last year and he is a long corner who has the ability to be really good. He just has to work on consistency. Flowers played more of an outside linebacker or strong safety position last year. He is very versatile and he can be physical and runs well enough to cover.”
The schedule opens at home against a 3A power in Madison Prep on Sept. 6 before the Wildcats host 5A power Destrehan. A pair of road trips follow to Fontainebleau and talented Landry-Walker. The final non-district game is at home against Broadmoor.
“We will certainly have some tough contests early,” Mahaffey said. “We know Madison Prep is very tough from my time at U-High. Destrehan’s program speaks for itself and they have a bunch of returning players. Fontainebleau has really good players returning. Landry-Walker has been in the upper echelon in the state the last couple of years.”
District 4-5A play begins with a very tough contest against a very good Scotlandville squad on Oct. 11. The Wildcats then travel to Live Oak and Central before hosting Denham Springs. The regular season closes with a flourish at two-time defending 5A state champion Zachary.
“It is a really competitive district,” Mahaffey said. “Central is much improved. Zachary has been the best in the state. There will be a lot of challenges. It is a very tough league.”
With a proven winner running the program, Walker has great leadership. If its young offensive players can mature quickly, the Wildcats should return to the playoffs as Mahaffey looks to build a championship caliber program in his new location.
“It’s hard to say how soon we can grow this program to championship status,” Mahaffey said. “There are many things off the field that must come together, the way you do things. I really believe you build a winning, championship program from the bottom up. You need everyone working hard every day and everyone pulling together as a team. I think our kids have hopped on board and adjusted but there is still a ways to go.”
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