ATHENS — It's been a while since the Concord University football team has had a winning season.
The Mountain Lions' new head football coach isn't much accustomed to anything else but winning.
The Concord University athletic program unwrapped an early Christmas present on Monday morning, officially announcing the hiring of Dave Walker as the football program's 20th head football coach at a special press conference held in the gymnasium at the Carter Center.
Walker is the former head football coach at Class AAA Martinsburg, which recently won its fourth consecutive WVSSAC state championship in Wheeling. The Bulldogs have won eight of the last 10 Class AAA state football championships under Walker's guidance, putting him in a class all by himself.
"He's the winningest high school football coach in the history of West Virginia, so we feel really blessed to get him to Concord," said Concord University Athletic Director Kevin Garrett.
Walker, for his part, expressed gratitude for the chance to coach at Concord University, as well as for every preceding success that made the transition from high school to college possible.
"I've been blessed. I've been surrounded by a lot of great people and we've had a lot of success and I feel very honored to be here and I'm really excited about it," said Walker, whose state-record streak of 56 consecutive wins at Martinsburg prior to taking the Concord post was the second-longest active winning streak in the nation.
Walker's arrival in Athens appears to be the result of mutual readiness.
"The job came open and I applied for it. I went through the process like everyone else. I do have a relationship with coach Garrett and coach (Kenny) Osborne ... I've known them for years. I think with the success we've had at Martinsburg, I think that obviously put me in a position to have an opportunity here," Walker said.
In hindsight, at least, Martinsburg's 2019 state title appears to have been as certain as the turning of the earth. Less predictable was where Walker might end up if he finally decided to move up to the next level. Concord set its sights on Walker as soon as his predecessor, Paul Price, resigned as Mountain Lions head coach shortly after the close of the Concord regular season.
Other candidates were being seriously considered for the post, Garrett said. But Walker was at the top of the wish list.
"I think this was inevitable for Dave. I think he was going to be a college football coach because he's at that point in his career where, what else can he do on that level? Somebody was going to get him. We were lucky enough to get in first and grab him," Garrett said.
Walker played his high school football at Pineville High School in Wyoming County. He is a 1988 player-alumnus of Glenville State, where he won the athletic program's prestigious Montrose Award recognizing both performance in competition and service and leadership off the field. In 2016 he was inducted the Glenville State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Walker has served 32 seasons as a head football coach at the high school level, serving first at East Hardy High School in Baker, then spending the last 22 seasons at Martinsburg where he racked up 248 of his more than 300 career victories. His combined 53 playoff wins as a head coach in West Virginia are also a state record.
After having built the most dominant of gridiron dynasties at the state's highest classification, there probably wasn't much Walker could expect to achieve at the high school coaching level that he hadn't already. Concord was depending on it.
"It's kind of a mutual agreement. I think he had us in mind and we had him in mind when the job came open," said Garrett, who noted that Walker's Wyoming County roots were also a big plus.
"We went through the interview process just like we did with several other candidates and he was the best fit for what we want here at Concord," said Garrett. "(Walker) being from the southern part of West Virginia, you get to go home and coach football at a college you grew up knowing about. That's going to help."
Walker did not get the opportunity to serve as a graduate assistant coach while at Glenville State, but over his 32 years as a high school football coach he's had close enough contacts with college football to smooth the transition. He will not feel like a fish out of water.
"This will be my first experience coaching college football, but obviously, I've been around it. I've had hundreds of players who've gone on to play, so I'm very familiar with the operations," Walker said.
"I think the biggest difference is going to be the recruiting part of it. That's something you don't have to deal with at high school because you have whatever kids are there. That's the biggest difference ... that whole aspect of going out and getting players to come to your school," he said.
Walker said the prospect of entering the college ranks had been on his mind a lot the last few years, even though he'd always enjoyed what he did at the high school level. He was particularly content to stay the course in an eight year span during which his sons, Derek and Troy, were playing for him at Martinsburg.
"During that time, I never really gave it much thought. But after that over the last four years I've kind of thought that I'd like to have the opportunity if the right opportunity came along," Walker said.
"I've kind of done all that I feel like I can personally do at my job. And honestly, I'd gotten a little stale and a little bored with what I was doing. I think a person needs to be challenged and this is definitely a challenge I'm looking forward to."
And it will be a challenge. Concord University football hasn't had a winning season since the 2014 season under head coach Garin Justice, which ended in the NCAA Division II semifinals. The Mountain Lions' fortunes declined under Justice's successor, Paul Price. Concord finished 1-9 in 2019.
As far as the pure football goes, Walker does not intend to stray far from the formula that made him a legend in the West Virginia high school ranks. Offensively, he likes to run the spread. Defensively, the Bulldogs have been odd-stacked — but multiple is probably a more accurate description of what Martinsburg has been doing under him.
Walker has gotten used to running a pretty sophisticated system overall for a high school program. At this stage of things, there's no reason not to dance with the one that brung him.
"Offensively ... we're doing what everyone else does at the collegiate level. We've been doing that at Martinsburg for several years," said Walker, who likes to put as much speed on the field on both sides of the football as he can.
"I don't think I have to change a lot of what we do schematically. The biggest thing is going out and getting the highest caliber players that we can get — and developing the ones that are already here," Walker said.