It was just earlier this year that the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri locked horns over a great running back from the state of Missouri by the name of Ronnie Wingo.
The Razorbacks won that one and another battle could be brewing between the two schools for one of that state's top junior prospects – Jefferson City's Kody Walker (6-2, 225, 4.7).
Walker rushed 23 times for 73 yards and for what proved to be the game-winning score while leading the Jays over host Fayetteville 20-18 Friday night at Harmon Field.
"We knew we had to get in – 4th and 1 coming down to it," Walker said. "We had to punch it in. We practice that every day in practice and we knew that it had to go. Our defense held up, too, so we did good all over."
Indeed Fayetteville quarterback Brandon Allen – who was 16-of-35 passing for 387 yards and 3 touchdowns – completed a 15-yard scoring pass to a diving Josh Hale with 10 seconds left to give the Purple Bulldogs a chance to tie.
But Allen's two-point pass for Michael Heintzman was batted down in the end zone to preserve the win for the visitors, who watched Fayetteville march into their house and win 42-39 last season.
"Man, wow," Jeff City head coach Ted LePage said. "I just want to get on the bus and go home. (Fayetteville head) Coach (Daryl) Patton had his guys ready and they played well…They are so well coached. They have some weaknesses and they know what they are and they do a great job of covering them up."
Arkansas and Missouri have already stepped up to offer Walker, who gained 750 yards in just five games last season before getting hurt and has 375 so far this campaign in three games.
He had rushed for 151 yards on 15 carries in a 47-20 win over Springdale last week and the exact same number on 20 carries in a 44-20 season-opening win over McCluer North.
Although he is still learning about the Razorbacks and their program, he certainly knows about a few of their former backs now in the NFL such as Darren McFadden and Felix Jones – who join Peyton Hillis and DeCori Birmingham as UA-developed RBs in the pros at the moment.
"Arkansas to me is a great school for running backs," Walker said. "I like the way their offense is and they produce some good backs and I like that."
LePage has has several conversations with Arkansas recruiting coordinator and running backs coach Tim Horton.
"I have talked with Coach Horton quite a bit and he is a very, very good guy," LePage said. "Seems to be very high character people. Just from what I have seen dealing with them, they have seemed very, very genuine and good people."
LePage has coached a couple of current NFL players and says that Walker is ahead of their pace at this point.
"I had the pleasure of coaching Justin Smith, who plays for the San Francisco 49ers and was the fourth overall pick and Justin Gage, who is a receiver for the Tennessee Titans," LePage said.
"At this stage, at this stage, Kody is more advanced than those two were," LePage added. "Now, they are both freaks because they are both playing on Sundays. They were good players in the sophomore and junior seasons, but not to the level Kody is. Kody, with his work ethic, I think has a chance to be extremely successful."
Fayetteville sold out against the run to make sure that Walker wouldn't beat them alone.
He was the subject of much attention throughout the night as the home team put 8 and sometimes 9 in the box.
"They had a three technique to my side every time," Walker said. "So every time we motioned they would just shift. It was hard, but we did what we had to do."
That did allow quarterback Sam Turner and fullback Devin Moore to have big nights.
"Sam and Devin stepped up," Walker said. "I told them they were going to have a big game and they stepped up and they did it. And the line blocked good today."
LePage was worried about Fayetteville (1-1) being off since a 31-0 win over Little Rock Central on Aug. 31.
"He attracts a lot of attention," LePage said. "We knew that was going to happen. One thing that I was personally worried about – although I didn't express it to the coaches or anyone else – I was really worried about the nine days they had to prepare for us. Even 10 I think. That really worried me because I knew they were going to scout us really well."
The lack of a passing game hurts Jeff City – which runs the triple option - and Walker according to LePage.
"We weren't able to execute that part of our game so they were able to put nine in the box and take Kody a little out of the game," LePage said, "but I thought Sam did a great job stepping up and Devin Moore really did a good job."
LePage likes his star's attitude.
"Kody is so unselfish," LePage said. "We went for it on fourth and a foot and Kody was ‘how can I help on this play?' It wasn't ‘give me the ball.' We were going to run a Q-sneak and he goes ‘what can I do to help on this play?' That tells you the effort and teamwork out of that young man.
"He is going to get nothing but better and we are going to run into some people that we are going to complete the passes that we couldn't complete tonight," LePage continued, "and they are going to have to back off and then look out."
LePage says that Walker is sometimes too unassuming.
"What he does well is that he is a leader without saying a word," LePage said. "He doesn't say much and I actually try to encourage him to say more. He is very humble and very unassuming. Sometimes I think he thinks he is 5-5 and 125. I told him that again tonight – I said ‘be a diesel. Dagummit they are not going to give you room. Be a diesel. Bulldoze them.' He works as hard as anybody we have."
Walker says he relishes being the diesel.
"I am a power back and I like to hit," Walker said. "I like to punish the defenders and make people miss. People may say I am slow, but I am going to do what I have got to do."
Photos by Zac Lehr
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