LANCASTER — Ashton Walker is the smallest player on the field for Lancaster, but he has the most courage.
Walker, a 5-foot-6, 145-pound senior, does one of the most undesired things on the field as a punt returner, mainly because he is back there by himself with defenders running at him full speed.
Walker also starts as a defensive back and is on the kickoff, kickoff return and punt teams; he plays a little offense as well.
“I knew I was going to have a bigger role this season, and that motivated me to get stronger and faster,” Walker said. “I worked really hard in the offseason to make sure I was prepared.”
Walker has had a huge influence on the Golden Gales’ 4-0 start in all phases of the game, and he will look to continue his big-time role as Lancaster travels to Pickerington North for a key Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division game at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Panthers (3-1, 1-0).
Lancaster is ranked 10th in the Division I Associated Press state poll, and the Gales are ranked No. 1 in the Division I, Region 2 computer rankings.
Walker’s effect has been felt in each game. He has had several huge punt returns, including a 42-yard return for a touchdown against Dublin Jerome in Week 2 and a 49-yard return for a touchdown in a Week 3 win over Walnut Ridge.
That came after he returned the opening kickoff back for a 90-yard touchdown, which was called back because of a block in the back.
“I feel like I am calm and steady when I’m back receiving punts,” Walker said. “There is some pressure and it is a little nerve-wracking, knowing guys are running at you as fast as they can trying to hit you and you are looking up at the ball. The main thing is catching the ball first.
“Because of the work I have put in to get bigger, I’m not afraid to get hit, but I trust the guys in front of me to block, and they trust me to catch it.”
Walker is not an east-west runner. When he catches the ball, he runs straight ahead, and on both of his punt returns for touchdowns, he has made one guys miss or broken a tackle.
“I look for a hole, and usually I only have to make one or two guys miss, which I should be able to do, and then you just try to hit the next gear,” Walker said. “I just try to find a seam and go.”
Lancaster coach Rob Carpenter said he has enjoyed watching Walker transform his body to enable him to do what he is doing with so much success.
“I think he tried to make a big effort to have the best year he could have because he is a senior,” Carpenter said. “He did get a lot stronger, and because of that, he is able to take the hits. He has always had talent and explosion, but he has really built himself up. He has taken his play to a whole new level.
“He really hasn’t had a lot of success, and I think because of his size, he is an inspiration. We have used him a lot and he has been outstanding in everything we have asked him to do. He is athletic and he understands the game. I’m really happy for him and the success that he is having.”