Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

June 1, 2013

Walker faces tough tasks as he takes over Rams

BLUEFIELD, Va. — The tasks ahead are many for new Bluefield College football coach Ordell Walker.

Walker, who was introduced as the replacement for Mike Gravier on Friday, has exactly 67 days before his players congregate for the 2013 season on Aug. 7, with the season opener slated for 24 days later at Point University in Valley, Ala.

There won’t be a lot of down time, but Walker is excited about building a program that was 0-11 last season, the Rams’ first year on the gridiron since 1941.

“I am so excited to be here joining this community, my family is very excited,” said Walker, who posted a 22-9 record over the last three seasons as head coach at Greenville College in Illinois. “I have got two little boys that can’t wait to tackle the mountains out here and a wife that is ready to engage with you guys and have some players in our home and really invest.”

That will begin by connecting with the players and his staff, which is already in place, including defensive coordinator Will King and offensive line coach Joe Perri, both of whom were hired by Gravier after last season came to an end.

Getting in sync with them is part of Walker’s ever-growing agenda.

“That is probably pretty different with football, but certainly with the timing of this hire I can understand that,” Walker said. “We have to spend a lot of time together and it is me connecting with them and us getting on the same philosophy, just like we would do with the players.”

Walker planned to begin the process of reaching out the players as soon as Friday morning’s press conference was over. He was going to ‘pound’ the phones to reach the holdovers, while also connecting with those newcomers who had already committed to Bluefield for the fall.

“The early plan is we have to get on the same page so we have to think what I call ‘Ram Logic’, we have to think the same way so it is creating that mindset,” Walker said. “Talking to our guys, talking about mental toughness. The first thing we have to learn is how to run into battle and compete so getting on that phone and talking to our players and promoting that vision, that is where it starts. It starts with getting the right mentality.”

That will be followed by searching for those athletes still looking for a college home. While Walker plans to get into the local schools, his roster at Greenville included players from 17 different states, including California, Arizona, Washington, Texas, Oregon, Florida and Colorado.

 “Rent a car, call coaches,” said Walker, of getting out on the recruiting trail. “I have friends that coach in Virginia a lot so they have already given me a different direction and certainly utilizing the staff that is already here that are more familiar with the area.

“It is just about getting out there and making connections. My previous school, we were national recruiting program. The world is very, very small so you can recruit kids and we have had guys from Virginia...I have always been a national recruiter so we are going to recruit the country along with that.”

Retention of players have been an issue at Bluefield, and Walker is also ready to tackle that problem.

“First you have to recruit players who can see themselves being at Bluefield if football wasn’t an option so they have to want to fit here so that is first, recruiting the right person, and then secondly, relationships, building great relationships,” Walker said. “I have a great wife, we want players in our home, they are going to know my two boys and we are going to connect.

“As a team we are going to connect. When you have great relationships you want to be around, they are going to stay if we can do that.”

 Walker, who led Greenville to a pair of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) championships, and a National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Victory Bowl win last season, has been successful on both sides of the ball.

As defensive coordinator in 2009, the Panthers led just about all categories on defense in the UMAC, and Greenville ranked 12th in the nation in total offense last year, including the country’s third best rushing attack.

“We want to be a physical football team and it is an all-weather offense so traditionally we have been a multiple-option team out of the gun, but players make plays, and it comes down to our players,” Walker said.

Greenville ran often last season, often out of necessity, but Walker did the best he could with what he had, and did it well, as the Panthers finished 8-2, and averaged 38.6 points in those eight wins.

“Our quarterback could run and he wasn’t a great passer, and we lean on the strengths of our players,” said Walker, who was the NCCAA national coach of the year last season. “We like to have more balance, but that was the winning recipe there. We have to find out what the winning recipe is here with our players’ skills sets.”  

While Walker’s Panthers scored lots of points last season, they also gave up a bunch, allowing 95 points in the opening two losses, but simply outscored teams in some cases the rest of the year.

That is part of Walker’s philosophy of doing what it takes.

“...We are going to accept responsibility, no excuses. If we score 40 and it is not enough to win, we should have scored more, that is our mindset,” Walker said. “We don’t care about offense, we don’t care about how the defense is doing, accept responsibility, no excuses.”

Bluefield will need help on both sides of the ball. The Rams, who were playing mostly freshmen against a stacked slate of Mid-South Conference schools, entered and left spring practice without a quarterback on the roster, with the two holdovers having been moved to different positions.

Gravier had said that Bluefield’s top defensive player, Terrell Starckey — who was the Rams’ lone All-Mid South honoree — was going to attempt to walk-on at West Virginia in the fall.

“I have to figure out what our guys can do, but traditionally we want to have a fast-paced offense,” Walker said. “We want to establish the run and on defense we are going to attack, we are pretty aggressive.

“It is all about the players and what they can do. I feel like our scheme can adapt to figure out what their strengths are and that will more determine how we want to coach the game from a schematic standpoint.”

Walker, who was one of more than 150 candidates to applied for the Bluefield College position, was able to learn about the Rams’ program from school president Dr. David Olive and athletic director Pete Dryer. He is also familiar with the MSC, which has been called the best league for football in the NAIA ranks.

“I am pretty familiar, just speaking with these two gentlemen here and learning about it and talking to some people who played against Bluefield. I am sure there is a lot to learn still, but I feel comfortable enough that I wanted this job,” Walker said. “One thing at my previous school we got a chance to play (MSC foe) Campbellsville and we played JV versus Bethel so I am familiar with the those kinds of successful programs.

“I kind of see where we need to go and I feel like we can compete. If we can recruit the right guys and get guys on a visit and we have work ethic, we are going to be fine.”

It doesn’t hurt to play in a facility like Mitchell Stadium, along with boasting of an expansive weight room and football complex in an old grocery store on North Street.

“The field is great, it is huge, we have to fill that thing up,” Walker said. “We will put a good product there. The weight room and offices, everything is there where we need to be successful, but I tend not to focus on those things, it is all about the person and the mentality.

“If we develop that, we are going to accept responsibility for that. There may be some things that we are lacking and things that we want, but that doesn’t deter us from the job we have to do.”

Walker will preach concept of commitment over comfort, and doing what it takes to be successful, both on the field and off.

Do that and Walker feels like the Rams will do just fine.

“Those are just a few of the things we are going to focus on,” Walker said. “The recipe that we can have here will produce a great program off the field, but also one on the field,” Walker said. “If you have some of those traits in your life and that is how you feel and that is how you approach it, you can’t help but have success.

“There is no doubt we can get it done here and we can have a great time. I am just excited to get going.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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