Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 | 2 a.m.
Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss each of the six local high school football teams still left competing as the playoffs wind down.
Mojave running back Tawee Walker racked up 221 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in last week’s state quarterfinal win over Virgin Valley.
It was another spectacular performance in a season that has been full of them for Walker. The junior has more than 1,500 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, carrying the Rattlers to a 9-2 record and a state semifinal appearance Saturday against Northern Nevada’s Fernley High.
The breakout year, for Walker and the entire Mojave football team, has been a surprise to just about everyone, except Walker.
“I expected it to be exactly like this,” Walker said. “Last year I was just waiting to show everyone what type of player I am, and now I’m playing with a bunch of my brothers and there isn’t another group of guys that I would want to go to war with.”
Last year as a sophomore Walker was the only underclassman on Mojave’s varsity team. He started most of the season at safety before suffering a leg injury, but didn’t play on offense due to a senior-heavy backfield.
The Rattlers struggled throughout the season, finishing with a dismal 1-8 record.
“I have a winning mentality and last year was rough for us,” Walker said. “I was just sitting back and learning because I was only sophomore so I just wanted to see how varsity really is. It was a learning experience and helped me out for this year.”
During the offseason Walker moved into a starting role at running back and made an immediate impact with 150 rushing yards and a touchdown in a season opening win against Del Sol.
“We knew he was going to be our workhorse this year,” Mojave coach Abraham Gonzalez said. “Last year was a building year for this team. We did a lot of the right things in the offseason in the weight room.”
Other players are stepping up as well. Quarterback Xavier DeLong has thrown for 600 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns, and receiver John Harper has three receiving touchdowns.
“It hasn’t been hard (carrying the offense) because I know my teammates have my back,” Walker said. “The Chaparral game (for example) I injured my ankle and didn’t have a great game. My brother Xavier DeLong stepped up and won the game for us.”
The Rattlers have already had the best season in school history, most due to the play of Walker. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound back has six more touchdowns than the entire team scored last season. Walker said he hasn’t had any scholarship offers yet but has visited Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona State.
For a school that has had little postseason success in football, the ripples from the team’s wins extend beyond the football field.
“It’s been a real positive for the atmosphere on campus,” Gonzalez said. “You know the reputation Mojave can have and it hasn’t been like that at all. You can see the pride in the kids walking around campus.”
Mojave bussed students, cheerleaders and faculty to Mesquite for Thursday’s playoff game.
“It’s cool,” Walker said. “The atmosphere at the game was great, and at school all the teachers know me now, and they’re always congratulating me and wishing me good luck.”
The semifinal matchup with Fernley will be tough, and the elements in the Reno area will make it tougher. Combining a long bus ride with frigid temperatures and a difference in altitude, Mojave has a lot going against it.
That’s been the case all season, and it hasn’t slowed Walker or the Rattlers yet.
“Tawee is the heart and soul of this team,” Gonzalez said. “He does a lot of good things for us, on and off the field, and all of the players look up to him.”