RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Varina is partying like it’s 2008. That’s the last time the Blue Devils reached the state semifinals, but 2019 finds them back as one of the final four, thanks in large part to junior running back Jailin Walker, who put together one of the best games of his life to fuel to Devils to a regional title win.
“I go back, I watch the news,” Walker said of his big performance against Manchester. “I’m very proud. That’s my first time on the news ever.”
But the joy that Walker experienced on Saturday is a complete turnaround from the start of the season. Just days before Varina’s first practice in August, he and his family received some devastating news. His father had been shot and killed.
“I cried every night thinking about it,” Walker recalled. “I gotta be the man of my house. I gotta fulfill his role now. I gotta be there for everybody, for my family.”
As his junior year in the classroom and on the football field loomed, 16-year old Jailin was forced to grow up a little bit quicker.
“You just grab him and hold him and hope that he gets through it,” said Varina head coach Stu Brown. “You want to be there for him. There’s not a whole lot you can say in that situation. I think the biggest thing is that whole locker room came together for him.”
“I still feel the pain every night,” Walker said. “The game, it calms me down a little bit. I talk to my mom sometimes, and she calms me down too.”
Since that terrible day, however, the Blue Devils made it clear that their teammate was not walking that tough road alone, and even though his father is vacant from the stands on Friday nights, the running back feels his presence on the field.
“This season, in my mind, he’s like ‘go hard Jailin, go hard Jailin.’ Every play, I’ve got to go hard. I cannot slack. I’ve got to go hard.”
Brown thinks that Walker’s situation has brought the entire team together and pushed them all to get better, both on and off the field.
“I think he picked us up more than we picked him up, because we wanted him to be OK. He had his moments, they were tough moments, he shared his moments with us, then he just came out here and he outworked everybody.”
Which brings us back to Saturday’s breakout performance, when Walker was one of the brightest to shine on a field full of stars. The junior tallied two touchdowns, helped to Blue Devils to a region championship, some of the biggest reasons he’s had to smile during the course of the last four months.
“It gave me a lot of peace,” Walker smiled. “It calmed me down. Now I’m there, on the news. Now I’ve got to keep going. I can’t stop. I cannot stop.”
Those closest to him don’t expect him to stop. Walker is a straight A student, is finding his football stride, and many feel that his brightest days are still to come.
“People say the sky is the limit,” said Brown. “Jailin is one of those kids where why reach for the sky when the moon’s above that. He’s one of those guys, so he’s going to be fine, and he’s an amazing person.”
Walker and Varina face Maury in the Class 5 state semifinal on Saturday at noon at Powhatan Field in Norfolk.
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