Normal West High School forward Jordan Walker (9) earned all-state honors on his way to becoming the Pantagraph Area Soccer Player of the Year.

NORMAL — At first blush, it would seem Jordan Walker's journey to becoming this year's Pantagraph Area Soccer Player of the Year began when he was born into the family of a soccer coach.

Further analysis suggests the Normal West High School star's career really took off when he gave up baseball and basketball to focus on soccer.

His father and coach, Val Walker, remembers Jordan getting caught up in the excitement of the 2014 World Cup final when Jordan said he wanted to one day make the U.S. national team.hel

"At that point he was a three-sport athlete," said Val, who informed his son the world's top soccer players never moonlighted in travel baseball while growing up. "They played one sport. They eat and breathe it every single minute of their waking day."

So Jordan did likewise.

His dedication produced a Normal West record 106 career goals that included 30 this season as the Wildcats went 17-6-2, setting a school record for wins in a season.

Jordan doesn't regret the time he spent in other sports.

"I took positive lessons and had a good time playing other sports," he said. "Baseball really taught me a lot about mental toughness. I really loved playing basketball, especially on game day.

"I knew soccer was definitely the thing I was going to excel at and the thing I enjoyed more than the other two. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to give up the other sports, but I'm still very thankful for the things I learned while playing them."

A two-time all-stater and the Pantagraph area's only all-stater this season, Jordan had a career-high 16 assists to push his four-year total to 42.

"He led his team in goals and assists, which to me is an incredible feat," Val said. "Typically, you either have a guy who does the giving and another guy who does the scoring. For him to do both, it reflects that he is a complete soccer player."

A two-year team captain and a three-time all-Big 12 Conference first team selection, Jordan helped the Wildcats go 61-27-12 the past four years.

In this season's 25 games, he had at least one goal or assist in 19 games despite receiving extra attention from opponents. 

"Every game we played, he had someone on his back all the time," said Val, noting his son routinely exited blowout victories early or he would have scored more. 

Even when the Wildcats fell behind, Jordan maintained a positive attitude as he went the entire season without drawing a yellow or red card.

"A lot of times, it's about being smart in the situation," he said. "It's a testament to being in a leadership position this year.

"When you are not quick, you end up chasing and then you end up fouling a lot more. That's something I think I improved a lot on this year."

Next year, Jordan will play for Western Michigan where he will study electrical engineering. The Broncos are sure to appreciate the 6-foot-3½, 185-pounder's size, speed, skill and savvy. 

"He's a student of the game," his father said. "He's up early Saturday mornings watching the English Premier League. We're always talking about the international game.

"We're always working on things that he needs to get better at. It's always a work in progress." 

Much of that work was done while Val coached his son's Central Illinois United travel team. Val goes so far as to say he improved as a coach by training his son.

"He was an experimental lab mouse as far as soccer was concerned," Val quipped. "If I had a 6-year-old again, that 6-year-old would probably become a much better soccer player (than Jordan) just because of the things I learned over the years as a coach."

In that, Jordan has no complaints.

"I definitely wouldn't be the player I am today," he said, "without being that lab rat." 

Contact Randy Sharer at (309) 820-3405. Follow him on Twitter: @PG_sharer



Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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