ABOUT THIS SERIES
Each Friday leading up to the first week of high school football, the Forsyth County News will highlight one player from each team who could be poised for a breakout season.
At 6-foot-3, 225-pounds, Matthew Walters is built out of home-cooked meals and milk.
He drinks Borden skim milk after workouts and practice, during meals, with snacks or just whenever he’s thirsty. He alternates between white and chocolate milk and drinks as much as five gallons of milk in a week.
"I drink about four or five glasses a day," Walters said. "My mom makes home-cooked meals almost every day. She made chicken last night. She’ll do chicken and pasta either on the oven or on the grill with mashed potatoes [and] I’ll drink either milk or water; it’s good."
The linebacker/offensive lineman at Pinecrest Academy is only a sophomore, but sets the pace in the weight room and on the football field. Walters racked up 47 tackles as a freshman and helped guide the Paladins to their first winning season since 2009.
"Ever since I was 8 years old I’ve played [football]," Walters said. "Since I was 12 years old, I played for a North Gwinnett feeder team, and I think that helped me out a lot with the physicality here. I guess it helped me not want to play patty-cake with another person. It made me want to go after them and make sure I delivered the hit instead of them hitting me."
Pinecrest only had 14 players show up to spring practice last season, but Walters quickly stuck out and was named by head coach Todd Winter as the biggest surprise on the defense.
"We noticed just his size and his physicality [last year]. The thing that I noticed about Matt was, because we practice senior-through, and he wasn’t afraid of anybody. So I said OK, we’ll see what’s going to happen, because I’m not big on playing freshmen, and through camp you just kind of noticed that he had an instinct [for the game]."
That instinct led Winter to change the defensive scheme this season from a 4-3 to a 3-5 to center around Walters. The adjustment won’t allow teams to easily double-team Walters and will give him the ability to have free-reign.
"We’ve built the defense around Matt," Winter said. "Last year in our 4-3, he was the middle linebacker in that defense. But it’s like anything; you want to take advantage of your strengths. Matt is surrounded by a lot of really good linebackers…and we didn’t have a lot of really good defensive lineman, so it’s like, what do you do to take advantage of your personnel, so we moved to the 3-5 and it allows us to play more athletic kids and put a little more pressure on people and it really keeps people off of Matt and lets him play sideline-to-sideline."
Inside Pinecrest’s weight room, Walters is being built into an ideal athlete. He can squat 500-pounds, bench-press 315-pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.78 seconds, all while boasting a 3.6 GPA.
A refrigerator greets players as they walk into the weight room. It’s full of Borden chocolate skim milk that players drink after workouts. Some colleges and high schools are switching from sports drinks to low-fat chocolate milk after a University of Texas study in 2011 showed that athletes who drank milk after workouts gained more muscle and were in an overall better physical condition.
Although Walters is only a sophomore he’s already received numerous letters from Division I programs. He stood out at a Notre Dame camp in late June and has garnered interest from the Irish, Georgia, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Arizona and others.
"I’ve had the opportunity to coach 20 guys that have played at the Division I level and I think he is a Division I football player," Winter said. "He’s getting a lot of attention from a lot of schools, more than we can put on the list.
"As a player, he’s very, very good, but as a person, I don’t think you’re going to find a stronger character guy around. Put the football aside, he’s a person I think everyone would want their son to be like."