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GWINNETT GRADS: Dacula's Walker steps up for Air Force defense

Air Force Falcons defensive back Dexter Walker (5) celebrates after making a sack against the Utah State Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) (not pictured) earlier this season. (Reuters)

Air Force Falcons defensive back Dexter Walker (5) celebrates after making a sack against the Utah State Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) (not pictured) earlier this season. (Reuters)

A nickel back for the first 17 games of his Air Force career, Dexter Walker broke through earlier this season.

The Dacula grad earned the starting spot at strong safety after a loss to Wyoming, the third straight setback at the time for a team with a struggling defense. The Falcons had given up 52, 42 and 56 points during that stretch.

While the losing streak has stretched out to six games, Air Force has played two of its best defensive games the past two weeks in close losses to Navy and San Diego State. Walker has been a big part of both efforts, already rising to fifth on the team in tackles.

“It means a lot to me (to start), but wherever coach wanted me to be that’s what I was going to do,” Walker said. “It also meant a lot that coach told me I was one of the most productive players on defense.”

Walker has 44 tackles (30 solos, 2.5 for losses) and also has his share of game-changing plays — one sack, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

In the San Diego State game, the 6-foot, 205-pounder had a team-high 11 tackles (nine solos) with a fumble recovery.

“I’m just trying to make plays, get around the ball as much as you can,” Walker said during Air Force’s bye week, which leads into a home game with Notre Dame next weekend.

Walker took the Air Force Prep School route to the academy, spending the 2011 season there. For many cadets, that’s a tough transition to military life.

It wasn’t so bad for Walker, whose father is retired after 20 years in the Navy.

“My mom’s strict, too,” Walker laughed. “It wasn’t that bad. But I couldn’t go to school without making my bed first.”

After that year, he joined Air Force for the 2012 season. He played in all 13 games and tallied 11 tackles and a fumble recovery as a freshman.

He has a much bigger role now, with the goal of turning the Falcons’ atypical season around. Air Force has been to a bowl game the past six seasons under head coach Troy Calhoun, but must win out this year to reach six wins.

It’s a tough stretch for all the players, including Walker, who never endured this type of losing streak at Dacula.

“We just keep each other motivated and keep high morale, especially losing the last two where we should have gotten the ‘W’,” Walker said. “We should be 4-3 now at the minimum. We’re just trying to figure out what we need to do to win these close games.”

SWIMMING

Freeman picked for leadership academy

Greater Atlanta Christian’s Will Freeman will be one of 11 current University of Georgia athletes inducted Monday into the Student-Athlete Leadership Academy.

The four-year-old program inducted 17 student-athletes last year, 20 in 2011 and 26 in 2010. The inductees are chosen based on academic and athletic success, leadership, campus and community service and recommendations of head coaches and counselors. Along with encouraging leadership development and providing resources to compete for awards and scholarships, the academy gives the students chances to meet with local, state and industry leaders.

Freeman is the lone male inductee this year from the UGA swim team.

Gouge honored by conference

Brookwood grad Kelsey Gouge was named the Sunshine State Conference Women’s Swimmer of the Week on Monday.

The Florida Southern sophomore earned the award after reaching the A finals in all three individual races at the All-Florida Invitational in Gainesville. Among NCAA Division II swimmers, her times currently rank first (50 freestyle), second (100 free), third (100 breaststroke) and sixth (200 free) nationally.

Florida Southern also is ranked first nationally and Gouge swims for the program’s No. 1-ranked 200, 400 and 800 free relay teams.

TENNIS

Wehr gets weekly award

Collins Hill grad Abbie Wehr, a sophomore at St. Regis (Mass.), was named the New England Collegiate Conference player of the week on Monday.

Wehr won her No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles matches the previous week in a win over Mitchell, which finished off an unbeaten run for her and her team in conference play. Wehr is 8-0 in both singles and doubles during conference matches this season.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via email to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com.