April 1, 2010 9:21:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Heath Walker never wanted to quit playing soccer, so he decided to sign on with Junior Noel''s rebuilding project at East Mississippi Community College.
The Starkville Academy defender/midfielder contemplated the Lions'' offer for nearly two months before signing a National Letter of Intent Wednesday to play in Scooba for the next two years.
And after watching fellow Volunteers Roy Miles and Will Goodwin sign scholarships with Itawamba Community College in February, Walker became the third member of Starkville Academy''s breakout 10-1 season to secure a chance to continue his career in college.
The Volunteers earned a No. 1 seed in the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA playoffs this season.
"(Noel) told me the program is starting to build up," Walker said. "I know they''ve had some rough seasons the last couple of years, but I hope to carry over what I did in high school to EMCC."
The Lions went 5-11 last season, posting their highest win total since 2001. Noel hopes to get the Lions over the hump in 2010 after they lost four matches by one goal last season.
Part of his rebuilding effort is based on recruiting players from strong programs, something that hasn''t always been the case in Scooba.
"In my first two years we haven''t had a lot of kids coming from strong programs," Noel said. "I had to teach a lot of basics, things they would learn at 6 years old. We can''t win having to teach basics at this level.
"We''re trying to find players who are technically sound. (Walker) is going to come in and do well, and I hope this is a foundation to build for future players coming from SA."
Noel envisions Walker playing in a holding midfield role, where he can use his technical ability and vision to link EMCC''s backline to its midfield and forwards.
Because of personnel, the Lions have played a flat-back 4-4-2 and a direct style of soccer, as opposed to working the ball through all three levels, Noel said.
The holding midfield or defensive midfield role fits Walker, who also played at fullback, considering his build and physical style of play.
Walker was part of a stout defense that allowed just 1.28 goals per game this season.
"He played best when he was making contact," Starkville Academy coach Artie Cosby said. "He''s a motivator. He had one of his better games against Starkville High and Lamar. Plus, he was good at handling the ball. He''ll definitely be missed."
Walker leaves Starkville Academy with a senior class that produced four Commercial Dispatch All-Area Starting 11 selections and one Match Day Sub pick. After a down year as a junior, Walker and his teammates were keen to have a strong start and to make a push at the MAIS title.
The dream fell short with a first-round playoff loss to Jackson Prep, but Starkville Academy''s dominant season helped propel three players into the college ranks. Frankie Jones and Jake Read turned down scholarship offers to focus on school.
The strength of the group is unquestioned, Walker said.
"My touch has grown playing with guys like Roy, Will, and Kris (Simmons)," Walker said. "This senior class was a big part of my life with people and friends I''ll never forget. It''s an honor to sign and follow after Roy and Will."
With Miles and Goodwin at ICC, Walker said it will be different playing against teammates he shared the field with at Starkville Academy, though playing against the duo will feel like practice.
"I''ll put them on their butts, but I''ll offer a hand to help them up," Walker said.
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