Since Hunter Walden first began participating in youth football, baseball and basketball as an elementary school student, he demonstrated sports-star potential.
His presence on youth teams placed them in contention for league and division titles.
While blessed with as much athletic talent as any athlete who has gone through the Payson School system, Hunter's real asset is his will to win. When the pressure's on, he reaches deep inside himself and comes up with a game-breaking play that tilts the outcome in his team's favor.
In football terms, many consider Walden to be a great quarterback. But given the opportunity, he would have been an excellent defensive player as well.
When I coached him at Rim Country Middle School, we were in a dog fight in Whiteriver playing against an Alchesay team that outweighed us 20 to 30 pounds a player.
With the score tied and Alchesay driving for what looked like the winning touchdown, Hunter -- playing defensive back -- tore the ball loose from an Alchesay running back who had broken open and was heading for the goal line. Walden stole the ball and ran more than 80 yards for a touchdown.
An inadvertent whistle brought the play back and there was no touchdown. But the tenacity he showed lit a fire under the Rim Country Middle School team, which held Whiteriver on downs. The team then took over possession of the ball, and, under Walden's quarterbacking, marched 85 yards for the winning touchdown.
Walden made a lot of great plays in years after that, but that was the greatest one I ever witnessed. He turned the outcome of the game around and allowed Rim Country Middle School to finish its first year in tackle football undefeated.