NORTH PORT — Just before his junior year, North Port center Michael Walz was lost, trying to figure out a new school and sport.
He played football back in 5th grade, but was green when it came to the high school level. He was meeting new classmates and trying to find his footing.
Now with a year under his belt, he’s thriving in a starting role and even earned recognition as a team captain.
“There was certainly a learning curve,” North Port coach Brian Hatler said. “He had to learn the terminology and everything. But in this offseason he’s really stepped up and become a leader in our program. He’s never misses (practice), very steady and a very consistent player. He just continues to get better.”
A few weeks after moving south from Ohio, he was approached by a coach in the hallway at school and was persuaded to join the team. A 6-foot-1, 230-pound frame is always welcome on the field.
His first season was spent relearning football, picking up the terminology and getting in better shape. Gradually, he got stronger in the weight room and smarter on the field.
“It was pretty easy after a couple weeks,” Walz said. “I was a little nervous at first, but I’m a pretty aggressive person so I knew I’d be ready. I’ve always watched football, so I knew a little bit about it.”
He played primarily defensive tackle as a junior and didn’t see a whole lot of playing time, but with the graduation of center and linebacker Josh Hogue, a two-year starter, Walz was selected to fill that void.
It wasn’t seamless transition. He had to learn the technique of playing on the offensive line, something he struggled with a year earlier. On top of that, he had to get used to that while snapping the ball.
But through the first three games of his senior year, Walz continues to excel and be one of the leaders on the line.
“We talked about it and decided to move him over to center and he’s embraced it,” Hatler said. “He started working on his snaps and he’s come around. He’s really become a leader just by his actions.”
Now that he’s more comfortable in the offense, there’s less to think about and his instinct can take over. That’s where his aggression kicks in, which can sometimes surprise teammates.
“He was a little timid early on,” senior linebacker Taylor Willis said. “Now he’s nasty. Every play he wants to get after someone. I remember we were playing Island Coast and I was blocking upfield and he just came up and plowed his guy right into the dirt.”
Willis has been a mentor to Walz, helping him with the transition. But he’s the first person to tell you that Walz does plenty to lead the offense and exhibit the right way to go about business.
“He’s the hardest worker we have on the team,” Willis said. “Every day in the weight room he’s 100 percent. On the field he’s 100 percent. You name it, he’s 100 percent.”
This may be the only year Walz gets to play football and he says the only thing that matters to him over the next two months is getting North Port as many wins as possible.
“I just want to win and bring this team closer together,” Walz said. “I don’t think we’re working together as well as we should be, but I want to change that.”