Johnny Walker looks to go out with a bang

Life isn’t always easy when you grow up with a name like Johnny Walker.

“Everyone calls me black label, red label, blue label or whatever label they want to call me,” Walker said, referring to the brand of whisky that shares his name.

When he first meets people, they often think he’s making his name up.

“I’m like, ‘No, seriously, it’s Johnny Walker,'” he said.

It’s even tougher to be Johnny Walker when you play nearly an entire football season with a broken wrist. Maybe even two broken wrists.

Walker, who is a third-generation Johnny Walker, played through injury without complaint for most of his senior season on the defensive line at Butte High.

Walker thinks he broke his right wrist in the second game of the season at Helena Capital. He noticed his left wrist was really hurt early in wrestling season. Both were, in fact, broke, requiring surgery — the right one in February and the left in April.

He has a large, obvious scar on the top of each wrist as he prepares for Saturday’s Montana East-West Shrine Game in Laurel. Walker is a defensive lineman for the West team, which is practicing at Montana Tech.

The injury will probably mean the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Walker won’t play college football following a season when he earned an honorable mention at defensive end on the Class AA All-State team.

“I’m going to go to the Highlands College, and I’m going to be a lineman for the power company,” Walker said. “I broke both my wrists, and I didn’t really want to risk that. I’ve got to deal with that my whole life.”

He hasn’t completely ruled out playing football, though. Since beginning practice for the Shrine Game on Saturday, Walker has felt rejuvenated on the football field.

“I’m still debating about it, actually,” Walker said. “Playing right now on this field is fun. It’s really giving me motivation.

“I was talking to my dad last night, and I was like, ‘Dad, I miss it. I really do,'” Walker said. “He said, ‘Well, call coach Robertson.'”

B.J. Robertson is the head coach at Montana Western. He recruited Walker to be a Western Bulldog. The coach might eventually get his wish.

“I like Western’s program, I really do,” Walker said, clearly torn about his next move. “But they don’t have the lineman program down there. College football would be awesome to play.”

College football isn’t something Walker grew up dreaming about. Wearing a Butte High uniform was his ultimate goal on the gridiron.

“I liked playing for Butte High. That was my thing,” Walker said. “Growing up I wanted to be a Butte High Bulldog. I didn’t want to be a Tech Oredigger.”

Walker got to be a varsity Butte High Bulldog as a junior. Well kind of.

“I didn’t play much,” he said. “I played probably 60 plays all year. I didn’t get much playing time because they had (senior defensive linemen) Billy Robinson and Daniel Kloepfel. They didn’t really need me.”

Of those 60 or so plays, one of them was the biggest of the season and, perhaps, school history. Walker played right guard on the field goal team, and he blocked for Jake Dennehy’s 46-yard field goal as time expired in Butte High’s 38-36 victory over Bozeman in the state championship game.

“I actually played in the state championship, so that’s all that matters,” Walker said. “I got five or six plays. That’s more than most of the kids. I was on the field goal unit, too. It was crazy.”

Walker played both ways during his days on the sub-varsity teams at Butte High. He played on the offensive and defensive lines early in his senior season. Then coaches decided to play him only on defense.

“Defense is my first love,” Walker said. “I love defense. You’re in the trenches and … I can’t even describe it. It’s just wait for that guy to move and then kill him.”

Playing exclusively on defense, Walker broke out in a big way. He was maybe the best player on the Bulldog squad most of the season, even though he clearly wasn’t playing at 100 percent.

“I was talking to coach (Arie) Grey and he said he noticed I wasn’t playing as good the last couple of games,” Walker said. “They (the wrists) were bugging me.”

This week he’s been practicing with a brace and tape on his wrists, which have to hurt.

“It does every once in a while, but for the most part I have enough adrenaline to go,” Walker said.

The injury wiped out most of the wrestling season for Walker. It also meant he couldn’t suit up for the Bulldog track team like he did when he threw the shot put and discus the last three years.

“I was pretty bummed about that because track was one of my favorite sports,” Walker said.

Instead, Walker set his sights on playing in the Shrine Game. The only problem was that he was only selected as an alternate for the game.

“I didn’t know if I would play in this,” he said. “Just in case, I wanted to make sure I was ready to go. I was working out every day for the past two months to get in shape for it.”

Walker got the call to play in the game last Wednesday, bringing the number of Butte players on the West roster to seven.

“I was so proud of that,” said Walker, who said the Shrine Game is worth the risk of reinjuring his wrists. “I’d rather play this week and hurt myself than not play.”

Saturday, Walker plans to go out with a bang and play the Shrine Game like it’s his last football game, weather it is or not.

“I’ve got a lot to prove,” Walker said. “I’ve got to impress my dad, my grandma and my brother, just to make sure they know I was a good football player.”

In short, Walker plans on living up to his name.

“It’s the best of the best, so I guess we’ll find out who’s the best,” Walker said. “All of us are studs. That’s why we’re here.”

Note: will profile all seven Butte players on the West roster before Saturday’s Montana East-West Shrine Game. Other Butte Westside players are Peter Granger and Dallas Cook from Butte High and Wyatt Kingston, Kale Guldseth, Connor McGree and Connor Schulte from Butte Central.

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