SALEM — No fear.
That’s the mantra for Salem’s Talen Walton when he steps onto the football field.
A 5-foot-5, 135-pound linebacker — 30-plus pounds lighter than the average player at his position — he must go full-tilt on every single play, a task he’s more than happy to embrace.
“To be successful at this position, at my size, I truly believe you have to have no fear,” said Walton. “Everyone out there is bigger than me, but I don’t see it that way. You could send your biggest lineman at me and I’m still going to take him on with full force, giving up my body to make a play. At any size, I believe that mindset coupled with aggression is a recipe for success.”
That mindset has worked beautifully for Walton.
The undersized linebacker, known for dishing out massive hits, has become a defensive anchor for No. 6-seeded Salem (6-3), which will go for the upset at undefeated No. 3 Bedford (8-0) in the Division I quarterfinals on Saturday (5 p.m.)
“The guys and I are very excited for this matchup,” said Walton, who also sees time at running back. “We think it’s a game where we can really show people what our team is capable of, and prove that we can play with anyone.
“I believe it’s going to take something we haven’t done all year, which is to play our best game as a team. If we eliminate the mistakes and do what our coaches expect us to do, I see no reason why we can’t leave this field on Saturday night with a victory.”
Salem will look for big plays from Walton, as the Blue Devils try to slow a Bedford defense that’s averaging 42.3 points per game.
“For his size, he’s a monster,” said Salem head coach Steve Abraham. “He’s an all-conference caliber linebacker with no fear. He’s maybe the hardest hitter on our team.”
That heavy hitting has a way of silencing the trash talk about Walton’s size.
“People comment on my size all the time, usually calling me too small to play the position,” said the junior. “I love to prove them wrong, and I do this by laying those big hits. People realize really quickly that my size is not a reflection of how hard I can hit. I feel like I’m kind of a Trojan Horse. Some linemen think I’ll be an easy block or some running backs think they’ll break my tackles. I embrace that and use it as fuel to hit harder.”
Walton credits his wrestling background with helping grow his mentality and physicality. He placed third at Division Is and sixth at New Hampshire Meet of Champions at 145 pounds last winter.
“My wrestling background has come in handy fishing out big hits, as I learned great form tackling from wrestling,” he said. “I enjoy the big hits because it can really set the tone for the entire game. It gets the guys going on defense, and gets the crowd loud. It also shows the opposing team that we’re here to play, and we’re gonna hit you. I look at it as size doesn’t always matter. I’m not focused on my physical self, I’m focused being mentally tough, disciplined, and winning. I put all that together to contribute to my teams success.”
Walton can cover the pass too, as he showed when he had two crucial interceptions in the Blue Devils’ victory over Manchester Central.
Walton now has his eyes set on stunning Bedford, and keeping the 2023 season rolling.
“It means a lot to us to be here,” he said. “After the year we had last year, I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were hungry to get back what we have been in the past, a winning program. I credit that a lot to our captains and the rest of the guys around us for changing the culture of the team over just a year.”
SALEM — No fear.