The vast central Arizona desert landscape has evolved into fertile recruiting grounds in the recent past for football coaches from around the country.
The greater Phoenix area (particularly the east Valley) and Tucson are the most popular destinations for colleges to pluck talent but down on the southwest corner of your Arizona state map Yuma Catholic High School has not only experienced success on the field, but also in sending players to the next level.
Just a little over two miles down the road at Cibola High senior tight end/outside linebacker Mark Walton could be the next area player to pop up on college radars.
At six-foot-five and 225 pounds he already has the measurable dimensions schools crave.
Did we mention he averaged almost 33 yards a catch to go with a team-high six touchdowns as a junior for the 8-3 Raiders?
Walton, who already holds an offer from South Dakota State, knows his best football is still ahead and made sure this summer he would have no regrets preparing for his senior season dropping weight, while adding strength and speed.
At first glance it’s hard to believe the chiseled two-way player who is being recruited as a tight end weighed close to 280 pounds a year ago.
“I cleaned up my diet and just started working out all the time,” Walton told Sports360AZ.com after the Raiders season-opening loss to Horizon. “I just think that I’m a lot quicker. I’m able to play both ways.”
Oh, did we fail to mention he’s also one of Cibola’s starting linebackers?
“He helps us on both sides [of the ball],” head coach Lucky Arvizo said with a wide smile. “Obviously his forte’ is offense…he creates mis-matches out there and does a great job run blocking but he’s a presence as an outside linebacker, as well. He covers a lot of ground.”
Walton can thank ditching sweets like soda and Gatorade for chicken and vegetables as part of the reason for not only his improved quickness but his stamina, as well. He ran a 4.8 40-yard dash at a University of Arizona summer football camp.
Arvizo believes if his star played in a bigger city he may have more offers. But if you’re talented enough, colleges will find you. Utah, Utah State, San Diego State and others have made their way to Yuma to check out the soft-spoken but immensely talented player who patterns his game after tall NFL tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham.
Good things come to those who wait.
My guess is Walton’s patience and hard work will pay off in a big way this fall.