READING — As newly-minted head coach Billy Tucker and his staff put the Austin Prep football team through its paces at a recent practice, it became evident that this team might just win a game or two via simple intimidation.
Standing heads above many of their teammates, literally, Wilmington brothers Chris and Harry Walsh represent an imposing tandem and in early assessments, show great promise for the Austin Prep football season ahead.
Harry, a 6’ 4” sophomore, has been tasked with left tackle and defensive end duties while his older brother, Chris, who also played defensive end in years past, will shift to right guard with Austin Prep. According to Chris, the reason behind the move had more to do with college recruiting than any decision of his own.
“All of the colleges I’ve talked with so far say they see me playing guard,” said Chris, a senior who like his younger sibling, stands at 6’ 4”. “So the coaching staff here at Austin Prep has put me in the position recommended by the colleges.”
“Chris has a veteran skill-set and good understanding of the game,” said Coach Tucker. “He can finish blocks and plays with an attitude. We are just working on making him more consistent.”
One doesn’t have far to look to understand where the boys acquired their athletic pedigree. Their father Mike was an All-American at the discus throw while at Bentley College and continued as a post-collegiate athlete and Olympic hopeful. He owned a best of 205-2 which eclipses the qualifying standards by a wide margin.
“I continued to throw for seven years after college and went to the Olympic Trials,” recalled Mike Walsh, who at 6’ 4” admitted that he gives up a little family height to his 6’ 6” dad. “I was top-ten in the United States for a number of years so I was fortunate enough to be granted entry into open meets and competed around the country. And I did fully qualify for the Olympics in Atlanta, 1996, but decided to hang it up several years later due to family commitments and a business opportunity.”
Walsh, a family friend of Coach Tucker, explained that his eldest son Chris had played football as an underclassman at Malden Catholic but last year was transferred to the Tilton School in New Hampshire as a means to draw more attention from college recruiters.
“Chris was approached by prep schools while at Malden Catholic and we decided to transfer him,” said his father. “We were under the impression that a prep school would better prepare him for the college recruiting process. So both he and Harry were sent to Tilton last year.”
Everything was going according to plan, as the elder Walsh explained, but then an abrupt coaching change at Tilton threw a wrench into the works. Chris, who had earned All-NEPSAC honors along with a selection to USA Today All-USA New Hampshire Football Team while playing at Tilton, was soon transferred again, this time to Austin Prep, on the suggestion of Coach Tucker. It wasn’t long before his brother Harry was wearing Cougar green, as well. The brothers, as their father shared, are very close and where one goes, the other follows whenever possible. It was suggested that one drives the other to excellence.
While father and Grandfather (Frank) Walsh can take credit for the boys’ physicality, mother Cheryl, who has run the Boston Marathon a number of times, certainly deserves merit for their speed and endurance. When it comes to athletics, the entire Walsh clan seems to be involved in one way or another.
Both Chris and Harry took part in AAU basketball as youths which helped improve their athleticism, according to their father. Harry played some of his early football in the Tewksbury Pop Warner system. He found it humorous that he was over the weight limit because of his size and was not allowed to participate in Wilmington Youth Football. Tewksbury, his father explained, was more flexible with the restrictions.
Harry is a diamond in the rough. Coach Tucker employed his sharp sense of humor to describe the youth.
“Harry is still a puppy — a big puppy!” quipped the coach. “He’s learning the game but is very athletic. He has a huge frame and still has a long way to go in his physical development. Both the Walsh brothers are fun to be around. Typical brothers, they get after each in practice.”
At the AP practice where the Walsh brothers shared their comments, there was a sense they were in a hurry to get back to the workout on a hot, humid late-August afternoon. Distant whistles seemed to grab their attention. Needless to say, they weren’t kept for very long. But before rejoining their teammates, each shared one hope for the Austin Prep football season ahead.
“I’m looking forward to playing Cardinal Spellman,” answered Chris, when asked if there was any particular team on his regular season radar. “I hear they’re pretty good and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
And younger bother Harry was brief and to the point when asked what he’d like to accomplish with his new team this year.
“Win a lot of games,” he said. “And go to Gillette Stadium.”