4 Questions with Walton head coach Daniel Brunner

Walton head coach Daniel Brunner addresses his players following a win.
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Walton head coach Daniel Brunner addresses his players following a win.

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Today’s interviewee is Walton coach Daniel Brunner, whose team defeated Brookwood 52-35 last week in the Class 7A quarterfinals. Walton is in the semifinals for the first time since 2011.

Daniel Brunner, Walton head coach

1. What did your team do especially well against Brookwood? What was the difference-maker? “We played great TEAM football. Our group is playing selfless, passionate football. We never let the momentum swing too hard away from us throughout the game. We were able to answer in all phases of the game early and late. We stopped them on a fourth-down field goal attempt with the game tied 7-7. The offense answered with points shortly before the defense forced a fumble, returning it for a touchdown. The offense responded with points after giving up a touchdown on special teams. The defense recaptured the momentum after an interception with a three-and-out. There were plenty of times in that game where the tides could have turned, and this group just wouldn’t let it happen. This group’s response was the difference-maker.” [Cade Thompson forced the fumble that Brunner referenced, and A.J. Brown returned it 33 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. Brookwood’s Alexander Diggs returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score, and Walton came back with a 12-play, 63-yard drive to lead 28-14. Five Walton players had tackles for losses.]

2. You lost your last regular-season game 42-14, albeit to a good team, Marietta, but that’s not usually a good omen entering the playoffs. Then you open against Colquitt County – a team that beat Marietta. And you’re playing them on the road, and you win decisively. How did your staff and players mentally re-set and start playing so well after that? “We know we can compete with anyone in the state if we prepare properly and execute on Friday nights. I would say the biggest thing I have seen in this group is the confidence level has continued to build throughout the playoffs. We have had three losses that turned out bad and our focus has been putting the last play/last game behind us and moving forward. We grew from those losses and found answers on how we can get better. We are playing our best football, and I hope to continue to see us grow.”

3. Walton is a rare semifinal team that’s been playing with two quarterbacks extensively. Sophomore Jeremy Hecklinski and Zac Rozsman each have more than 1,000 yards passing with 23 TD passes between them. Is it a case of two deserving players, or more about complementary skill sets? “We have two of the best quarterbacks in the state. They both have unique skill sets that have helped us win games throughout the year. They are also both very deserving young men. At the end of the day, we are trying to do what we feel is best for this team and playing both has been our answer.”

4. You’ve won all three playoff games on the road. Why do you feel you’re playing well away from home? “We are enjoying being on the road. I am not sure if there is a secret to success of playing on the road, but our preparation for travel and how we travel matters tremendously to us. It is at the forefront of how we prepare for the game. We have a great coaching staff and support staff that make this happen. It has also allowed for us to minimize distractions and make sure we keep the game plan on the forefront of our minds.”

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