AYER -- From day one of practice, it has been business as usual for Ayer-Shirley senior captain Zak Walker. Walker came into training camp in shape with valuable game experience already under his belt. Walker, along with his brother Alex, played seven-on-seven football over the summer for the New England Patriots-sponsored Dracut team.
Walker's summer team advanced to the National Tournament at First Energy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns. Walker helped make the trip to Cleveland possible after securing the game-winning interception in the New England Regional against Connecticut.
Aside from his summer experience, Walker has molded himself into a more mature, accountable quarterback.
"Key word is young man," first-year head coach Billy Wright said. "He has become a wonderful young man. His work ethic is unquestionable -- he is just a character kid. He has his fun and keeps it light with his teammates. The biggest thing about Zak is he has taken personal accountability. I couldn't ask for anything more. He's matured immensely in the sense if someone ran the wrong route -- if anything goes wrong in the offense -- he steps up and takes accountability for it."
Over the four seasons Walker has been with the Panthers, success has been a distant memory, but the young signal-caller would not trade his experience for anything.
"Obviously, over the last four seasons we haven't had a lot of team success," Walker said. "I feel like I have had a good deal of personal success, which is nice, but I would trade personal success for team success in an instant. It's tough to go out and play the game of my life and not win. But I have had fun at Ayer. I love being a Panther."
Walker has certainly racked up the personal accolades, including a pair of school records, including his program-high five-touchdown performance at home versus Narragansett in October of this year. Last season, Walker amassed more than 1,900 yards of passing offense with 150 completions, which is the most by an Ayer-Shirley quarterback in school history. Walker is quick to point out these records are unofficial.
"People told me that I have a couple of records, but I am not really sure about that," Walker said. "Last year, I was told I set the single-season record for touchdown passes with 19 and completions. In the past, we didn't throw the ball a whole lot. This season, coach Lamoreaux said he never had a quarterback throw for five touchdowns in a single game."
While Walker calls his records "unofficial," Wright thinks that one must consider the source.
"It's an official record if coach (Jamie) Lamoreaux says it is," Wright said convincingly. "Coach Lamoreaux has been here for over 30 years and he doesn't remember anyone in his tenure throwing five touchdown passes. (in a single game)"
In the Panthers' last game at Narragansett, even though the team was trailing for much of the contest, Wright was impressed with his senior quarterback's toughness.
"Even though we lost, we prepared for 'Gansett to run a similar defense to what they ran against us the first time," Wright said. "When they changed up their defense, we ran the ball more. He ran for over 100 yards. The kid is not just a good thrower, he's a good athlete. It was really nice to see him switch gears. He sprained his knee the other night, but it was all because of second effort. He'd spin out of a tackle. I don't have a ton of kids in the program who are willing to lay their bodies on the line like Zak."
The personal achievements, while impressive, are not what the humble quarterback is focused on; he wants to make sure that his fellow classmates can end their high school careers on a positive note, win or lose.
"We have a tough game coming up on Thanksgiving," the senior said of Littleton. "It's been fun. I have been focused on the seniors and my teammates just going out and having fun. This final week of practice is going to be tough because we all grew up and played sports together -- (Ryan Richard) (Anthony) Burwell and (Josh Thomas), but we all grew up together since kindergarten. We've gone through a lot together."