Vol. LXI, No. 33
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)
WORLD BEATER: Brig Walker celebrates last fall after the Princeton University football team rallied to a 34-31 win at Yale on the way to tying with the Bulldogs for the Ivy League title. Walker recently celebrated another title as he helped the U.S. to a 23-20 win over Japan in the championship game of the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship in Kawasaki, Japan.
Last fall, Brig Walker focused on helping the Princeton University football team beat such foes as Harvard, Yale, and Penn.
The fleet, hard-hitting Walker, who earned second-team All-Ivy League recognition at linebacker, helped the Tigers achieve their goals as Princeton went 9-1 and tied Yale for the league crown.
Last month, Walker had his sights set on beating teams from Korea, Germany, and Japan as he played for the U.S. in the International Federation of American Football (IFAF) World Championship in Kawasaki, Japan.
Once again, Walker played a key role in leading his team to a title as the U.S topped Korea 77-0 and Germany 33-7 in group play before edging Japan 23-20 in two overtimes in the championship game. It was the U.S.' first appearance in the tournament, which has been held every four years since 1999.
For Walker, though, the odyssey to Japan was far more than a chance to get another shot at football.
His mother is a third generation Japanese American and Walker's parents and sister came along on the trip as the family searched for its roots.
"Being four generations removed from Japan, it was difficult to connect with distant family but I was able to travel to my ancestors' home province and see landmarks that I had heard about through family stories," said Walker, a native of Vancouver, Wash. who graduated this past June from Princeton with a degree in molecular biology.
"Additionally, I had studied Japanese for years so this was a great chance to have a short immersion experience."
Walker relished the chance to once again be immersed in football. "I mostly felt a mixture of relief and excitement," said Walker, recalling his emotions when he learned he had made the final cut for the 45-man U.S.squad.
"The process was long and a bit unnerving because the coaches has to wait until the end of the NFL draft and mini-camps to see if their NFL 'tweeners' would be available for the USA season. I've been planning on traveling to Japan for years and my younger sister graduated this past spring from high school so this summer was an ideal time to go there. The selection process took about three and a half months from start to finish and I started looking for other ways to get to Japan."
The selection process for Walker started when Princeton head coach Roger Hughes nominated him to be a member of the U.S. team which had 125 players on its preliminary roster. That number was pared down to 70 after questionnaires and then down the final 45 after game film review.
The team's head coach was John Mackovic, the former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and four college programs including Texas and Wake Forest.
Once selected, the U.S. team headed to San Jose, Calif. for a pre-tournament camp.
"Training camp was about two weeks of two-a-days," recalled Walker. "It was a bit tough because we had a team of 'rookies' who were accustomed to different football lingo, so mentally pulling everything together."
As the players worked to master the intricacies of the new systems, they made time off the field to come together.
"Unlike team camp at school, we were able to have time to relax, check out San Jose and even make a team trip to San Francisco," said Walker. "Team bonding and morale was really well managed as an integral part of the program."
The U.S. squad was cautiously optimistic as it embarked on its journey to Japan.
"We felt that we had bonded and learned the scheme well," asserted Walker, noting the team played three games in a week.
"Our schedule was one of the two most unfavorable in terms of a quick turnaround for the next game. Recognizing that we had limited exposure to the other teams, we were also prepared to make last second adjustments in Japan after watching the competition play."
In group play, the U.S. showed progress in its wins over Korea and Germany as it earned a shot to play two-time defending Japan in the title game.
"We were eager to play," said the 6'1, 210-pound Walker, who split time 50-50 at weak inside linebacker for the U.S. during the tournament.
"Korea had a great attitude and I expect them to continually improve for the next IFAF Championships. Germany was much more physical so we made progress in the sense that we were able to be successful against a larger team, but we didn't make progress in the sense that we didn't play a more perfect game. Between turning the ball over on offense and missing opportunities on defense, we knew that we needed to pick it up against Japan."
The host team presented a formidable challenge. "They were fast and schematically disciplined," explained Walker. "They were a team that was going to force us to beat them through sound play."
In topping Japan 23-20 in double overtime, it was special teams play that made the difference and left Walker with another title to celebrate.
"We had many blocked kicks in the tournament and a blocked field goal in OT set us up for the win," said Walker, who noted that the championship game drew a crowd of about 10,000. "It was great to go out as a winner. As with everything, that's the way to go."
Walker had plenty of winning moments off the field during the Japan trip. "There were some stellar shrines and temples in Kyoto, notably one that contained the 1001 Golden Buddhas," said Walker, who also climbed up Mount Fuji in addition to visiting Kyoto, Hiroshima and the Yamaguchi-Ken area.
"Going to the Miyajima Island, just outside of Hiroshima was great. Beyond having beautiful scenery of red temples and shrines (both on the water and the land), there were hundreds of spotted deer running around unabashedly."
All in all, the experience of playing for the U.S. gave Walker the chance to apply some of the deeper lessons he learned through being on a championship team at Princeton.
"Confidence in each other's ability to do all the little things on and off the field to ensure a chance at victory set last fall's team apart," said Walker, who will be working in healthcare consulting this fall.
"Football, requires complete appreciation for the opportunity to play as demonstrated through accountability."
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