All year long, the roster for the Booker T. Washington football team listed him as a junior. But somewhere along the way early on, running back Mark Walton decided he would be a senior instead.
And, oh what a night this “senior” enjoyed on Saturday, as he closed out what turned out to be only a three-year career at Booker T. with about as big an exclamation point as you could put on a performance.
Walton proved to be virtually unstoppable in the second half, as he put on a one-man show to lead the Tornadoes to a 54-35 victory over Jacksonville Bolles in the Class 4A state championship game at the Citrus Bowl.
Walton, who had a quiet first half with just 29 yards on eight carries and a short touchdown run, exploded when he came out of the halftime locker room to finish with 184 yards on 19 carries, including two more touchdown runs of 11 and 75 yards.
That wasn’t all. He also caught three balls for 89 yards and two more touchdowns, including a 45-yarder from Maurice Alexander with 3:36 left in which he practically juked a Bolles defender out of his shoes to seal the win and become part of the history books — the Tornadoes became the first team in Miami-Dade or Broward County history to win three state titles in a row.
“It’s unbelievable,” Walton said.
“I played a horrible first half, but I told my teammates at halftime that I was going to pick it up, and I did. Whatever I needed to do, I would go out and do. I came out in the second half, and the game wound up evolving around me, and that’s the way I wanted it. I wanted to carry this team.”
Because of his age (Walton was held back one year during elementary school) and the fact that he was closing in on enough credits to conceivably move up his graduation date, Walton decided last September to meet with his counselor and try and take some advance-placement courses that would expedite his graduation process.
“I talked to my counselor early in the school year, and she told me that I had enough credits that I would be able to graduate at the end of the year,” said Walton, who finished this season with 1,472 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns along with 24 receptions for 282 yards and five scores. “I talked to a few people, including my coach, and just decided I wanted to go for it. They all said that they would support me and be behind me 100 percent with my decision, and I just ran with it.”
Walton said while he is proud of what he is doing and has worked hard to currently hold a 3.4 GPA, he did it with a heavy heart as it meant leaving his teammates a little earlier.
“In my heart, it was something I really wanted to do and had been thinking about it for awhile, and now I’ll be able to go into college one year earlier,” Walton said. “But there was a lot of soul searching early on, but my teammates also supported me. Now I’m looking forward to coming back to my school some day and talk to the young guys and talk to them about what I did.”
In the meantime, Walton will finish up and graduate next spring before taking his impressive football talents, much to the delight of Al Golden, to the University of Miami, where he continued to remain verbally committed.
If there was any doubt before Saturday night, there is no more.
After Walton bolted into the end zone for an 11-yard third-quarter touchdown, he promptly raised his arms up to make a “U” sign.