By CONOR NICHOLL for Sports in Kansas
Located in the Pacific Ocean, French Polynesia Tahiti is known for its island paradise landscape and travel destination. However, tourists don’t see the Tahiti where Pratt senior back Enoch Knox Walton grew up.
Further inward on the island, Walton’s family came from poverty and public assistance. More than half of French Polynesia’s nearly 280,000 people live on less than $1,150 a month in U.S. dollars, per public economic reports.
Walton, one of the breakout stars of the 2021 high school football season and a Class 3A state powerlifting champion, has nine other siblings who live in Tahiti. He is the third oldest in his family.
“Everyone just drinks and everything,” Walton told SIK. “A lot of drugs and stuff like that.”
As a youngster, Walton couldn’t play sports or really have any role models. Walton said Tahitians are happy to be living on the island, but at the same time, “they don’t really care what goes on in their life.”
For a long time, Walton watched Tahitians that weren’t driven to do anything or have long term goals. He saw many content to live in straw homes without doors or windows.
“The common kid starts drinking from an early age since alcohol is just handed out freely, and you can’t get an actual job anywhere,” Walton said. “Any store is like that until you are 18. So there’s a lot of poverty as well. Nothing like what tourists said. They just stay on the resort side. White sandy beaches. You get deeper into the island, just poverty driven everywhere.”
Since a young age, Walton watched American football players on YouTube. He especially liked watching University of Wyoming football, located in rural Laramie, with limited distractions that might come with an urban setting.
“Out in the middle of nowhere,” Walton said. “You’ve got this group of guys that are just out there playing their hearts out at a Division I level.”
He liked watching big, physical running backs such as NFLers Jim Brown and Bo Jackson. Walton significantly saw Saquon Barkley star at Penn State. Walton said they ran like trains.
“Just running over people,” he said. “Really pushed me to say ‘Hey, someday I want to be big like that.’”
Every night, he prayed for an opportunity to come to the United States, and hopefully one day be one of the players he saw online. He came to Pratt when he was a freshman.
“He’s seen stuff that a lot of us have never seen,” Pratt coach Brent Hoelting said. “And never had to deal with in our lives, and I know him and I, we have become pretty close over the last few years, and he will talk a lot about what he wants to do to make his family proud, to make himself successful, and he’s willing to stop at nothing to get it.”
Through two games, Walton already has more rushing yards than he delivered in 2020. He had a seminal performance Week 1 against Hoisington, then ranked No. 5 in Class 2A, in a 68-18 victory.
“A big tank, 218 pounds of beast going down the field,” Walton said. “Not many people can stop that, so definitely showed that on Friday night, but it feels good to get my hands on the ball after three years of blocking for the guy behind me.”
Hoisington was the defending Class 2A runner-up and had not lost a regular season game since 2018. It marked the most points the Cardinals allowed in the eight-year Zach Baird era. Walton finished with 18 carries for 159 yards and two TDs.
“We have got a lot of areas to clean up, and obviously the first one we have got to address is trying to tackle people,” Baird said on his postgame radio show. “…We wanted nothing to do with physicality. Obviously, Pratt did.”
It also marked the first high school game his dad, John, saw his son play. John drove eight hours from a construction site in Taos, New Mexico to see his son.
“That was an added fuel to make me run the ball harder,” Enoch said.
“One of those things he will remember forever,” Hoelting added.
Overall, in Pratt’s new single wing offense, Walton has 22 carries for 200 yards and two touchdowns for the surprising 2-0 Greenbacks. He has picked up a pair of NAIA offers. This week, Pratt travels to Hesston (1-1). Pratt is 1-8 against Hesston since 2010 with the lone win a 55-0 victory on Sept. 14, 2018.
“I am a long way from it,” Walton said. “But it drives me everyday to just get up and say, ‘Hey, you came a long ways.’ It’s not nowhere near over. Just keeping fighting. But everyday, I just think about where I came from and grateful for where I am today.”
Walton’s grandpa was in the Air Force. Walton’s dad, John Knox Walton, was born in Okinawa, Japan. The family eventually moved to Texas. John Knox played football at Randolph Air Force Base. In his final year of high school, he moved to New Mexico.
Generally, he lives in Tahiti part of the year. The other time, he travels across the world, including the United States, and builds log homes.
“There’s not much work in Tahiti,” Enoch said.
Walton’s mom is from Tahiti. His parents have been separated for some time. Walton called the relationship with his mother “distant.” Walton lived with his dad most of his life in Tahiti and would come to United States on occasion. He went about 15 years without seeing his mother.
John was helping with a home for Dr. Ian and Lori Kovach, of Pratt. Ian Kovach is an orthopedic surgeon at Pratt Regional Medical Center.
John told the Kovachs that his son “needed an opportunity.”
“When I first came to Kansas, it was a complete different environment, but I adjusted pretty well,” Walton said. “And I just loved the opportunity. And just a safe overall environment. And just the ability to be free and walk down the street without worrying.”
The Kovachs have a history of taking in children, though generally not for a long period of time. Enoch has stayed throughout all high school. They have provided Enoch with an opportunity for education and athletics.
“Grateful for them,” Enoch said.
Enoch talks with his younger siblings back in Tahiti and lets them know the opportunity he has.
“I talk to (my mom) once in awhile, just so I can stay in touch with my younger siblings, because they look up to me as an athlete,” Enoch said. “And hopefully they can live up to it, and they want to get out of Tahiti to the United States and live a better life. Because they have seen that I have prospered doing that and taking the opportunity. Hopefully one day I can help them all get out of Tahiti.”
While Walton had watched football, he had never really played the sport. He was shocked by the physicality.
“The bigger you are, and the stronger you are, the better you are going to be in the long run,” Walton said.
Around winter of his freshman year, Walton completely devoted himself to the weight room. He set goals to be one of Kansas’ strongest and one of the state’s best football players.
Walton could barely bench 90 pounds and squat 135 his freshman year.
“I said to myself, ‘Hey, this is not going to happen overnight,’” Walton said. “This is going to take years and building.”
Walton first played eight-man football for two years at Pratt Skyline. Walton loved the experience but believed college football opportunities would be more plentiful if he attended an 11-man school. Around three percent of all Kansas signees per year come from eight-man schools, per KPreps data. Eight-Man is around a third of all Kansas schools.
The winter of his sophomore year, he transferred to Pratt, just before the COVID shutdown.
“You could tell right away like, ‘Man, this kid is crazy about football,’” Hoelting said. “And then about the weight room.”
At that point, his bench, squat, clean total was right around 800 pounds. When Pratt tested at the beginning of his summer, Walton was up to around 1,200 pounds on those core lifts. Now, he is benching 340 pounds.
“He is such a great guy in the weight room,” Hoelting said. “The energy and making sure everyone lifts hard. You can’t help but be around him. You want to lift harder, because man, you want to meet that passion.”
Walton can currently squat 540 pounds, deadlift 615 and clean 315. He won the Class 3A 198-pound powerlifting state championship in the spring.
“I can’t say in 20 years of coaching that I have ever coached a kid that works harder in the weight room,” Hoelting said. “I mean, there’s times when I have to tell him, ‘Hey, man, you have got to rest some. Because he will just work himself to exhaustion if you will let him. But he’s a lot of fun to coach. A lot of fun to be around. Just a great kid.”
During quarantine, Walton started to lift in his basement. He has a weight room with weights up to 300 pounds in his basement. He lifted twice a day, six days a week. He kept the regimen during football. Walton has incorporated yoga and recovery work. During school, Walton and Pratt does a Rack Performance workout.
“I didn’t want to be average,” Walton said. “…After years of putting in the work, I am finally prospering for it on the field. As you could see (against Hoisington), I was a hard person to tackle.”
Walton said he was “really, really grateful” for Jake Sharp and his Sharp Performance workouts and combines in Salina. Walton has attended the past combines. Walton worked with Sharp and David Leonard, a well-known team in football circles, to help progress as a running back and defensive player.
He drove up every Saturday starting in March for several months. Sharp loved Walton’s energy and leadership, yelling, screaming and telling everyone “it was a great day to be better.” Walton gave a speech and broke down the huddle. Walton, primarily a north-south runner, worked on speed and agility for months with Sharp and his team.
“I definitely would not be where I am without him,” Walton said. “So very smart guy, knows what he is doing. He’s just helped me so much.”
The Greenbacks switched to the single wing for 2021. Pratt had graduated significant numbers after a ’18 state runner-up squad and posted 2-7 and 3-6 marks the last two falls. In the offseason, the coaching staff talked repeatedly after being physical and playing downhill.
Hoelting sat down at the end of last year. One play in the 50-0 road playoff loss to Wichita Collegiate stood out. Hoelting knew Collegiate keyed Pratt’s guards “really, really hard.” Pratt pulled a guard the opposite way to see if the linebackers would go.
Then, Pratt gave the ball to its fastest player on a jet sweep. The Greenbacks’ left tackle made a great block and hooked the defensive end. Pratt believed it would spring a big gain. Then, Collegiate’s outside linebacker retraced its steps and caught Pratt’s running back near the sideline for about a three-yard gain. Hoelting knew the Greenbacks had size and physicality, but the play crystallized another area.
“We are not the fastest team around,” Hoelting said. “And we don’t really have a natural quarterback.”
Hoelting started to research to fit Pratt’s strengths: downhill running and physical play. He came across the unbalanced single wing that Rick Darlington ran. Few Kansas teams run the single wing, notably Centralia and Oswego. Darlington, a longtime coach in Florida, won three state titles. In 2013, his squad set the Florida record for single season rushing yards. He has helped many across the country install the single wing. Hoelting reach out in December.
The two have had numerous Zoom sessions. Darlington, who is now an Alabama high school coach, sent film. Pratt’s base offense came from Darlington. Generally, Hoelting watched single wing and when he had questions, he reached out to Darlington.
“Rick was so, so kind,” Hoelting said.
Plus, Pratt has plenty of experience on the line.
Senior center Jesus Ornelas (5-10, 245) benches and cleans over 300 pounds, so does running back/defensive lineman Mason Melcher. Six others are over 260 clean now. Hoelting has been pleased with the weight room commitment. Ornelas is a stalwart at the point of attack.
In the single wing, Pratt has 6-foot-3 senior tight end and defensive end Grant Younie, who Hoelting called “kind of our unsung hero.” Senior Hunter Teasley starts at quick guard.
Senior Liam Primrose played extremely well against Hoisington at strong guard and defensive line. Sophomore Brock Bourgeios started at inside tackle. Junior Drake Van Scoyoc, who was an all-league player last year, is at outside tackle. Van Scoyoc put on 30 to 35 pounds this offseason.
Defensive line was another key against Hoisington and its vaunted ground game. Hoisington returned four offensive line starters from its 12-1 squad. Senior defensive lineman Trevor Stimatze, known for his motor, was an all-league player as a sophomore and broke his leg at the beginning of last year. Outside of Bourgeios, all the other linemen are returning starters. Hoelting has delivered a mantra of smashmouth, physical football in everything.
“To be physical, to a certain degree, you have to have some confidence in yourself and in your body,” Hoelting said. “And I think our kids have done a great job of buying into the weight room, and getting a lot bigger, a lot stronger.”
Along with Walton, sophomore Max Younie has been a breakout player, too, with 13 carries for 194 yards and four scores. Against Hoisington, Younie had several runs when he cut back against the whole defense.
“He has got incredible vision, incredible balance,” Hoelting said of Younie.
Through two games, Pratt has run the ball on 82 of a possible 90 snaps. The Greenbacks opened with its signature win against Hoisington, and then defeated Mission Valley, 59-22, in a game that was scheduled late last week because of COVID-19.
Last year, Walton had 35 carries for 199 yards and two scores and caught 10 passes for 155 yards and two TDs all season. Walton’s work ethic and personality caught Bethel College’s attention during the last year.
Bethel, a top-25 NAIA program that runs the triple option and utilizes the fullback, heavily recruits Kansas’ smaller schools. Bethel offered Walton this summer. After Week 1, NAIA Tabor offered Walton. Kansas Wesleyan has shown interest, too.
“Enoch, he wants to realize that dream of playing college football,” Hoelting said. “And he’s well on his way. … Through sheer force of will, he has made himself a really good football player just because he wants it so bad, and as a coach, I mean, there’s nothing better than kids like that – and a kid like that helping lead your program. That’s just helped us a ton.”