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Rachel Walker signs with Judson

Rachel Walker became the third athlete in Demopolis High School history to sign with a collegiate soccer program when she inked a scholarship offer to play at Judson College.

“It feels great,” Walker said. “It’s the best feeling I’ve had. I’m excited just to be able to play on a college team, to know that I can.”

Walker, reserved in personality but not in performance, became the starting goalie of the Demopolis boys team in the spring of 2008 after the school’s girls program dissolved. A sophomore at the time, Walker took on the charge of sitting in goal for a fledgling program that would see its growing pains over the next two seasons.

“Judson, in my opinion, is getting a player that should have been at a Division I school. The only reason she didn’t go DI is that she didn’t play club soccer and didn’t have the exposure,” Demopolis head coach Peter Keen said. “She has played with the boys and been told several times by other coaches that she is the best goalie in 5A.”

“I’ve been talking to Coach Keen every since we started the program (at Judson) and he told me he had this girl playing starting goalie for the high school team,” Judson head coach Bryan Weiss said. “We’ve heard the University of Alabama and some other bigger schools were looking at her, so we put her at that level. I think she has a legitimate shot at being the starter next year. Rachel will be a big piece to winning a couple games there next year.”

Weiss said that Walker’s experience competing against boys over the last three seasons will be a major bonus for her when she moves to the next level.

“The girls that she’ll play against are going t o shoot even harder than the boys she’s used to,” Weiss said. “So it will be a big advantage. I go looking for these girls who are playing against boys because they are used to the speed.”

Walker has put together a number of memorable performances over her three-year tenure in goal for Demopolis. However, it is likely that none will be talked about more than what she managed to do against John Carroll last week. Facing the team’s top program, Walker held ever-dominant John Carroll to three goals, one of which came on a penalty kick. During the contest, she recorded 18 saves and kept her team’s playoff hopes alive.

Keen said her success on the field is a direct reflection of her work habits and attitude away from it.

“Rachel has excellent work habits,” Keen said. “She’ll do anything you ask her to do. She’s respectful. She’s never given me a day’s problem, beginning in seventh grade. That’s why she’s a captain this year on a boys team.”

For Walker and her family, Tuesday came as the latest signal that the next chapter in an incredible story is readying to begin.

“It’s very rewarding,” Diane Walker, Rachel’s mother, said. “She has grown so much as a person in her faith and as a player also.”

The next challenge awaiting Walker after graduation will be readying to play college soccer. That task will involve more than adjusting to the speed of the game for a young lady who has spent three years as one of the boys.

“It’s going to be a change,” Rachel admitted. “I don’t really remember what a big group of girls talk about.”

With all the changes approaching, the decision to sign with Judson will give Rachel the chance to get away from home while still being close enough to have a the safety net and comfort zone of family.

“It’s a good distance from home, so I get to get the freedom,” Walker said. “But my parents are right there in case I need anything.”