All-around improvement

Taylor Walters hopes to show his growth as a quarterback for Paonia this season

Taylor Walters, middle, will be the center of attention once the Class 1A football season begins. The junior quarterback will be trying to lead the defending champion Paonia Eagles to a second straight title.

Paonia High School’s Taylor Walters has spent the summer working on improving his throwing mechanics in hopes of leading the Eagles to a second straight Class 1a state title.

Taylor Walters directs players into their correct positions during a recent training camp practice in Paonia. Becoming more of a leader is one thing both Walters and his coach, Brent McRae, want the junior QB to grasp.

Although Taylor Walters, left, has been working on improving as a passer, the junior will still be a running threat this season for Paonia High School.

PAONIA — Taylor Walters takes a quick five-step drop and snaps a spiral to a teammate.

He repeats the exercise with another five-step drop. You can see the athleticism in his footwork. The throwing mechanics are getting better. Quick, fluid steps: 1-2-3-4-5, then his right arm whips a pass to another teammate.

Repeat. 1-2-3-4-5, throw. Repeat. 1-2-3-4-5, throw.

Improvement only comes with repetition. Don’t think, just do, just react: 1-2-3-4-5 plant the right foot, snap the throw, repeat.

It’s the summertime work that will pay dividends when Walters and the Paonia Eagles tug the laces tight and buckle the chin straps for real next week.

They will be the team with the target on their jerseys this season in Class 1A football.

For every opponent, Walters will be the No. 1 focus.

For Walters, his focus this summer has been about getting stronger in the weight room and becoming a more polished passer on the field.

Repeat: This time it’s a three-step drop. Three quick steps, plant the right foot, snap the throw. Repeat.

As a sophomore, a super sophomore, he was indeed super.

Walters smiles as he stands next to the field where he etched a legendary end to his sophomore season by leading the Eagles to the Class 1A state football title on Nov. 23, 2013.

“People are always coming up to me, even people I don’t know, and telling me, ‘Good job,’ and congratulating me,” he said.

The humble 17-year-old offers a proud but slightly embarrassed grin.

It was a breakout season and an epic title game for Walters.

Even though he didn’t start until the third game of the season, Walters rushed for more than 1,900 yards. He also had nine interceptions on defense, including a jaw-dropping seven in the playoffs.

Many men around town, most former football players themselves, gather to gossip and reflect on that 32-24 championship game win over Centauri.

They talk about Walters’ 52-yard TD interception return that shifted the game’s momentum in the first half. They marvel at the 58-yard TD run he broke off early in the third quarter as a running back. At quarterback, they remember Walters throwing a pair of touchdown passes and grabbing another interception on defense.

Epic, bordering on legendary. A huge game in the biggest game.

This summer, Walters works part-time at the local lumber yard.

When friends and neighbors spot the wiry blond-haired quarterback, they ask about his folks and how his summer is going, but the main thing they want to talk about is football.

“It makes me feel kind of good that they are remembering me,” Walters said with a laugh.

The 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior now wants to be a super quarterback, not just a great runner.

Like most quality football teams and players, summertime means football camps.

“I took a lot of the stuff (from football camps) and work on it everyday. I work on my footwork a lot. You have to do it a lot. One false step and it’s all messed up. You have to know it like the back of your hand,” he said.

The Eagles went to a team camp at Adams State University in Alamosa in June, then a few weeks ago Taylor attended the prestigious quarterback camp at Colorado State University.

“I learned so much,” Walters said. “The (throwing) mechanics are everything. I feel like I’m getting better.”

Repeat: 1-2-3, plant the right foot, snap the throw; repeat.

Looking for an encore

When it comes to Paonia football, maybe even in all of 1A football, the most talked about player is the youngest son of Jeff and Nicole Walters.

“I’m pretty excited about the season right now,” Jeff said a few weeks back. “We’re getting excited a little earlier than usual.”

Nicole, 42, hears the football talk around town, too.

“Everyone is always talking about (Taylor) and the team,” she said.

Again, it’s the name Taylor Walters that dominates the football discussions.

Nicole chuckles.

“I’m no longer known as Nicole Walters. Now, I’m just known as Taylor Walters’ mom.”

She doesn’t mind one bit.

Most of the talk about Taylor centers on his goal to be an all-around, polished QB.

Dad wants to see Taylor be a better passer this year, but mom points to the intangible where she wants Taylor to excel.

“I’m very critical, but I don’t know much about football,” she said. “I do think he needs to continue to be a leader of the team. That’s what the quarterback does.”

Head coach Brent McRae, in only his second season with the Eagles, also wants to see Taylor become the team’s leader.

“I want to see him take command of the huddle. That’s the main thing,” he said. “He’s a junior now, so this is his team.”

As a sophomore, Taylor graciously deferred the leadership to the seniors. But now, as a junior, and with a state title last year, he feels he’s the unequivocal leader.

“I feel like it’s my team now, and I know I have to do my best,” he said. “They’re going to depend on me, and if I’m not doing my best that day, then I’m going to let them down.”

Still a running team

Everyone connected with Paonia football looks forward to Taylor improving in the passing game. But there’s one simple reality: Taylor Walters is one heck of a runner.

“We’re going to run the ball,” McRae said. “What do they say about passing? Three things can happen, and two of them are bad.”

The famous line by the power-running-game guru Woody Hayes of Ohio State is a common theme embraced by many high school coaches.

A big key to Paonia’s title run last year was senior Will Austin at tailback.

With practice starting next week, McRae said he’s not sure who will take over at tailback this season. That means he won’t rule out shifting Taylor to the tailback position if that’s what’s best for the team.

Jeff Walters understands that.

“It’s safe to have Taylor run, I know that,” he said.

Taylor understands that.

“I’m OK with that, if that’s what I’m asked to do and that’s what’s best for the team,” he said.

Then he grinned and added, “I like running the ball.”

But Taylor the football player makes it clear he wants to play quarterback.

“I’ve always been the quarterback, so I want to be the quarterback,” he said.

Taylor Walters was the first fifth-grader to start at quarterback for the Paonia peewee team.

He then promptly led the team to the town’s only two peewee Super Bowl championships.

Not impressed with those little peewee titles? They came against teams from Delta and Montrose counties.

Taylor’s peewee coach said he’s always been a leader.

“He had really good skills and was an exceptional leader, even as a fifth-grader,” said Adam Mendoza, Paonia’s peewee football coach since 1993.

Walters is bigger, stronger and maybe faster than he was last season as that do-it-all super sophomore.

There’s no disputing his athleticism, and he will again be one of the top players in Class 1A football.

After a summer of work, trips to camps and countless hours working on his throwing mechanics, Taylor is focused on being that all-around quarterback.

Winning one title is difficult. Back-to-back championships are even tougher.

For Taylor Walters mom, who probably knows more about football than she professes, she has high hopes for her son’s future. But for the present she offers an understated motherly desire.

“I just want him to play and be happy,” she said.

When Taylor Walters plays football, there are a lot of happy people in Paonia.


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