An Instagram poll changed Jonathan Walden's life — at least the next four years of his life, anyway.
Walden was part of Forsyth Central's marching band last fall, but he wanted to pick up a spring sport to stay active. He already had an athletic background, growing up playing basketball, and ultimately trimmed his list to two sports.
“I asked people, ‘Should I do track or should I do lacrosse?’ And I actually got more people that said lacrosse, so I was like, ‘All right, that’s it for me,” Walden said. “Even if it had been track, I secretly knew I was going to play lacrosse either way. But it happened, so that’s actually why I chose lacrosse.”
Less than a year after his inaugural lacrosse season, Walden signed his National Letter of Intent on Thursday to play lacrosse at LaGrange College.
Walden considers himself an attacker, but he learned midfielder last year to fill the team's need. Before even picking up a stick, Walden possessed an attractive quality to college coaches.
“I actually am a left-handed player, which in lacrosse is super rare," Walden said. "Most people are right-handed, and if you’re a lefty – and I actually didn’t know this until I got told by one of my teammates – if you’re a lefty, they strive to look for those players because they’re so hard to find.”
But Walden's junior season was cut short because of COVID-19, and he entered the summer before his senior season with little to show college coaches in terms of film.
So, he set up a goal in his yard, placed his phone on the back of his car and pressed record. Walden taped himself running through various lacrosse drills and uploaded the video to a recruiting site.
"I set it up, and we had no intention of ever getting recruited," Walden said, "but we just wanted to see what would happen – maybe it can.”
LaGrange's coaching staff contacted Walden in August to ask if he was still uncommitted. He was.
Walden took some time to weigh his options but ultimately decided to accept the offer and join a Panthers squad that played its inaugural season last year.
Walden was one of seven Forsyth Central seniors who signed Thursday to play sports in college.
The Bulldogs' baseball program sent four players to the next level, including Josh Williams (UVA Wise), Hunter Darke, (McDaniel College), AJ Fiechter (Western Kentucky) and Will Robbins (Georgia Southern).
“I’ve been here at Central for a while now, and I can remember this time of year we might have one or two kids signing in one or two different sports," Central baseball coach Kevin McCollum said. "Now it seems, over the last three or four years, it seems to be six or seven or eight in the fall and about the same number in the spring.”
Williams was one of three Central pitchers to sign, joining Darke and Robbins. Darke pitched 9 1/3 innings last year in an abbreviated season, finishing with a 7.50 ERA and striking out seven batters in two starts. Robbins was on track to be one of the area's most effective pitchers as a junior, leading the Bulldogs with a 0.61 ERA and 20 strikeouts across 11 1/3 innings.
Robbins joined the signing ceremony virtually because he was quarantined after being exposed to someone with COVID-19.
A staple at shortstop for the Bulldogs, Fiechter hit .292 in 24 at-bats last season, scoring a team-high eight runs and driving in seven runs.
Aisha Dabo signed to play basketball at the University of Massachusetts. Dabo transferred to Central three years ago from New York.
“Since then she, along with her teammates and the hard work that they’ve put in, has really changed our program and has just put us on a trajectory that without Aisha I don’t think could have been really possible," Central girls basketball coach Angela Hurt said. "Not only is she a talented basketball player, she has done a great job of setting a true example of what an athlete has to do to make it to this level.”
The Bulldogs have enjoyed back-to-back winning seasons with Dabo in the lineup, winning a combined 36 games from 2018-20. Central reached the playoffs in both seasons, two of only four girls basketball teams to earn a postseason berth since 1985.
Central even hosted a playoff game last year after finishing second in a competitive Region 5-7A.
Ella Connelly signed to play lacrosse at Lees-McRae College after helping the Bulldogs to a 4-1 start last year as a junior.
Connelly is a four-year letterwinner for Central, and is one of the Bulldogs' leaders on and off the field, according to Central girls lacrosse coach Meagan McLeod.
“She is a wonderful talent for us," McLeod said. "She always works hard, does everything she’s supposed to do in the offseason and comes to all of our workouts and weight training every year and has done a great job … I’m so glad she gets to continue her passion at Lees-McRae next year.”