When you’re a new head coach on the job at a place like Neville High School, you want players in place that are going to keep the standard that’s been set for many decades.

Luckily for head coach Jeff Tannehill he has such players like Dexter Walker. And with Tannehill making the leap from assistant coach to head coach at Neville in 2020, he knew all along what kind of player he had in Walker.

“He’s a tremendous leader both vocally and by example,” Tannehill said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s making sure people are doing the right things. If something is left out, he makes sure everybody gets it done. He’s just taken over that leadership role for us at workouts.”

Tannehill said you could physically see the hard work Walker has put in just by taking one glance at him. Walker, who started playing when he was around 170 pounds, has put on anywhere between 10 to 20 pounds as a rising senior. There’s a reason behind it. Being one of Neville’s returning starters on defense, Walker knows he’s going to be tasked with producing more as a senior in 2020, and he’s put himself in perfect position to build off of a successful junior campaign.

But don’t get it twisted. Leading by example and being the hardest worker in the room isn’t just about individual accolades. It’s also about keeping that Neville standard in place.

“As a senior we watched those before us, and I’m just looking out for the younger guys,” Walker said. “We’re trying to build this so when we’re gone they’ll step up and be able to carry on that role.”

Last year Walker recorded approximately four tackles for loss and five sacks as a pass rushing defensive end. He was a bright spot for a Tiger defense that allowed less than 20 points per contest yet again under defensive coordinator Benjy Lewis.

“He really had a tremendous year at defensive end,” Tannehill said. “We expect big things out of him this year. We count on that leadership he brings.”

Of course, you can’t play on the defensive line at Neville without hearing about the past accolades of so many successful players that have wreaked havoc over the last decade. Players like NFL vet Justin “Jelly Bean” Ellis, recent draft pick Rashard Lawrence and current Alabama star Phidarian Mathis have dominated opponents in the trenches for many years. And that’s what expected of any Neville Tiger that puts his hand in the dirt.

“It’s a pride thing,” Walker said. “We’re making sure we follow in their footsteps and continue to set the standard.”

With a 3.8 GPA, Walker believes it’s his film study that separates him from his opposition. The attention to detail and the hours spent studying tendencies is where Walker feels he holds an advantage on the field. Because at the end of the day Walker is doing what every athlete should be doing — trying to gain a fair competitive advantage.

“I’m always trying to be more in-tune with the game of football,” Walker said. “I’m always trying to encourage my teammates to do the same.”

While Walker believes he’s improved his first step and get-off at the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t have any individual accolades for the upcoming season. For Walker, it’s all about the team getting back on the field together and achieving the ultimate prize as one.

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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