WALKER – Walker High senior Keondre Brown said it felt peculiar standing on the sideline when the call came for the Wildcats' first-team defense to return to the field in last week’s season-opening game with Madison Prep Academy.
Brown had flourished in his first full season on defense in 2018 and returned as the team’s top tackler from a year ago while scoring three defensive touchdowns.
Throughout preseason camp, scrimmage and jamboree action, he practiced with the team’s first defensive unit, but in Walker’s 38-30 victory, Brown’s primary role switched to offense where he enjoyed a career-best outing.
He didn’t take one snap on defense the entire game.
“It’s different, I’m usually out there on defense telling people where to go, making the big play and getting the offense the ball back,” Brown said.
Brown accounted for 223 all-purpose yards – rushing and receiving for more than 100 yards each – and totaled two touchdowns to help Walker (1-0) win its opening game going into Friday’s home game with No. 8 Destrehan (1-0) at 7 p.m.
“Keondre’s a good all-purpose back,” Walker coach Chad Mahaffey said. “He’s big and tough to bring down. He’s still not that experienced at this level, so I think he’s going to get better and better with the more experience he gets. He’s a big powerful kid, he’s got really good hands. Pass pro (protection) should be a strength for as big as he is.”
During his successful nine-year run at University High, Mahaffey had the luxury of building his up-tempo, spread offenses around next-level tailbacks who could also catch the ball out of the backfield.
Brown was familiar with success of former standout U-High runners in Nick Brossette (now on the Detroit Lions' practice squad) and Michael Hollins (a freshman at Virginia) and looked forward to blending his talents in Mahaffey’s offense, which generated 412 yards against Madison Prep.
Brown, who carried eight times for 125 yards as a junior, easily surpassed that total in his first game of this season. The 6-foot, 217-pound senior rushed 20 times for 104 yards with an 18-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
“With me at running back, I thought I’d have a chance to help the offense and make big plays,” Brown said. “I saw them (U-High) them play before and knew they ran the ball a lot. With him (Mahaffey) coming here, I knew he liked to run the ball more than he threw.”
Walker ran the ball 31 times for 188 yards with Demetri Wright adding eight carries for 57 yards and a 34-yard score in the third quarter, providing Walker with a commanding 38-16 lead with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
The next step for Walker is being able to provide the closing kick in the second half.
Madison Prep, which threw for 371 yards, closed the game to the final score on a pair of fourth-quarter TD passes, but Walker was able to fend off any further challenge down the stretch.
“We had a big lead, but I guess some people got comfortable,” Brown said. “We have to keep our foot on the gas, just keep playing until the clock hits zero and the game’s over with.”
Walker hosts one of the state’s top programs in Destrehan, which led 38-0 at halftime en route to a 38-16 win over Bonnabel. The Wildcats were led by the rushing duo of Kyle Edwards (3-84), an Alabama commitment, and Razan Keller (100 yards).
“I told our guys they’re going to look the part of what a team should look like,” Mahaffey said of Destrehan. “They’re going to be as good a team as we’ll play all year. We’ll have our work cut out for us. The big thing is that it’s an opportunity to show we’ve improved since playing another high caliber team (Catholic High) two weeks ago.”
Brown looks forward to continuing to grow in his role, one he expects to include some responsibility on defense where he registered 58 tackles last season and had three interceptions from his linebacker spot.
In keeping with Mahaffey’s preference for being able to rely on versatile tailbacks, Brown showed he was someone capable of not only gaining yards inside the tackle or getting to the edge but coming out of the backfield as a receiver.
Walker took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when quarterback Ethan McMasters spotted Brown down field for a 44-yard TD. He wound up with five catches for 95 yards.
“It’s fun because last year I barely got the ball,” Brown said. “This year I get it a whole lot and get to make plays and touchdowns. I didn’t get to have that much fun on offense. This year I get to have a lot of fun.”