Dalton Walsh has grown up around St. Joseph-Ogden High School football.
“I remember being a kid and always looking up to those players and wanting to be just like them when I got to high school,” Walsh said. “I remember going to the 2006 state championship game. My parents even took me to the 1999 state game.”
Then, Walsh got the chance to play in a state title game in 2013 when he was the starting quarterback for SJO. And now? Walsh is giving back to the Spartans via a coaching role as SJO gets ready for another playoff game. SJO (5-4) plays at Williamsville (9-0) in a first-round Class 3A playoff game at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Walsh, a 2014 SJO graduate, is in his first season as an assistant football coach at SJO, helping work with the Spartans’ defensive backs and quarterbacks.
It’s a role Walsh didn’t give much thought to. Until SJO coach Shawn Skinner asked him to lend a hand.
“I never really did consider coaching,” Walsh said. “I was always kind of an in-the-moment type of person and never really thought about things like that. Coach Skinner approached me with the opportunity to help out, and I jumped on it. Football has always been my favorite sport, so when he asked me, I was pretty excited about it.”
Walsh played a key role the last time SJO squared off with Williamsville in a playoff game, throwing for 155 yards and two touchdowns during the Spartans’ 38-26 win against the Bullets in a 3A state quarterfinal game in 2013. It was a steady progression for Walsh and his teammates during their SJO careers after the Spartans lost in the first round of the playoffs during Walsh’s sophomore year and then losing in the second round his junior year before going on a run to the state championship game his senior year. The Spartans lost 43-41 to Stillman Valley in overtime at Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, with Walsh playing one of the best games of his career by completing 24 of 35 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns.
“My senior year didn’t end the way we had all planned, but I’m proud of us getting better each year,” Walsh said. “We continued to work in the offseason, in the weight room and on the field to get the program back to where it belonged.”
Playing for Dick Duval, an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach who guided SJO to five state championship game appearances during his run as the school’s football coach from 1988 to 2015, left an impression on Walsh.
“It was great to play for coach Duval,” Walsh said. “I learned so much from him as a player and so many things I can take away from him to help me now being a coach. It’s pretty cool to see how many guys on staff that used to play for him because all we’re doing is just teaching the kids now what we were taught by him when we played. And if your going to get information from someone, it was pretty nice to get it from a Hall of Famer.”
Walsh now hopes his coaching skills can do the same for current and future SJO football players.
“It’s a big difference going from playing to coach, but I enjoy being around the kids and seeing how much better they get from the beginning to the end of the season, both as individual players and as a team,” Walsh said. “By seeing them in the summer and then getting to work them every day, it’s pretty cool to see how much better they are at the end of the season. You just have to help get them prepared and put them in the best possible position to succeed.”
Walsh knows what SJO football success means not only for the program, but the school and the community as a whole. He doesn’t have any grand plans at the moment for future coaching aspirations, but is just enjoying spending another football season connected with the Spartans.
“I’m so new to this, so I’m just trying to absorb all the information I can,” he said. “I want to continue to grow and learn from all the great coaches I’m surrounded by.”