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Remembering Neil Walker - the all-around athlete

Written by Mike White on .

 By Mike White | Tuesday, Sept. 1,  3:15 p.m.

The Pirates called up Neil Walker today, and it brought back some memories of the 2004 Pine-Richland graduate. Obviously, Walker was a tremendous baseball player in high school. But what many people sometimes forget is how talented he was in football. And on top of that, remember he was also a pretty fair basketball player until he gave up the sport his senior year.

In football, Walker was a three-year starter at receiver. But he was so athletic that at the start of his senior season, Pine-Richland moved him to quarterback. He eventually switched back to receiver and had 68 receptions for 1,128 yards in helping Pine-Richland win the WPIAL Class AAA title. He played in what many consider the greatest championship game in PIAA history, a 39-38 double overtime loss to Manheim Central that was played in a snowstorm. Pine-Richland lost on a missed extra point in the second overtime.

As a senior at Pine-Richland, Neil Walker played quarterback in the preseason before being moved back to receiver.

I will never forget the summer day in 2002 when I was interviewing Pine-Richland quarterback Kevin McCabe. At the time, Walker was known in these parts, but not that well known outside of Pine-Richland. He was only heading into his junior year. McCabe told me Walker would be one of the best athletes to come out of the WPIAL in a while. McCabe was absolutely correct.

When Walker was a junior, he and McCabe were one of the top pass-catch combinations in the state. Walker finished his career with 153 receptions.

When Walker was a senior, he played at Heinz Field in the WPIAL championship. That day, Sto-Rox's Adam DiMichele and Aliquippa's Darrelle Revis also played in title games at Heinz. It's hard to remember a WPIAL championship day with three better all-around athletes.

Here is a quote from Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac about Walker, DiMichele and Revis playing in the title games: "It's like having Miss USA, Miss Denmark and Miss Ethiopia lined up in front of you. There ain't no bad choices."

Walker and DiMichele were two-time winners of the Post-Gazette Athlete of the Year. Looking back, in 2003 we should have had three winners. The other should've been Revis.

 

Walker had 153 career catches at Pine-Richland

I always said that if Walker ever made it to the Pirates and turned into a good player, this town would love him - just because of his personality and the type of person he is. The first part of that equation happened today when the Pirates brought him up from their Class AAA team. Walker might not get much playing time in September with the Pirates, so his status with the Pirates might not be determined until next year. Here's to hoping he has some terrific years.

 Just in case you wanted to know, here are Walker's high school baseball statistics: He hit better than .500 three years in a row and capped his career with a tremendous senior season, hitting .657 (44 for 67) with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs. He had 9 doubles, 1 triple and 41 runs scored. He struck out only twice and was walked intentionally seven times. His slugging percentage was 1.403. He was outstanding in the postseason, hitting .765 (13 for 17) in five games.

Neil Walker, the baseball player, during his Pine-Richland days.

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