Friday, July 25, 2014

Football, basketball and track, oh my!

Junior Walt Aikens excels in not one, not two, but three sports at Liberty University

Many student athletes have speed, physicality and athleticism, but producing on a high level in three different sports settings is a rarity at the NCAA Division I level.

Baller — Walt Aikens is one of a select few three-sport athletes. Photo credit: Lauren Adriance

A redshirt junior from Charlotte, N.C., Walt Aikens has been a three sport athlete in Liberty University’s athletic program since 2011. Last season, he played for Head Coach Dale Layer on the basketball court and was a contributor coming off the bench.
This spring, Aikens works with Head Coach Brant Tolsma as a long and high jumper for the track and field team.

Football, however, has been an essential part of his life.

“I started playing football around the age of 6 or 7, basically as soon as you can play,” Aikens said. “I fell in love with the game after that.”

After the 2011-12 football season, Aikens joined Layer’s basketball program and played in 14 games during the season. He averaged 4.4 minutes a game, but when he came onto the court, the crowd would chant and cheer. In warm-ups, he would normally perform between the legs dunks, showing off his leaping ability.

“Actually, basketball was my first love,” Aikens said. “I started playing it when I was 2. My dad was a basketball player and played pro ball in Brazil, so it has always been a key part of my life.”

Instead of returning back to the court this year, Aikens decided to join the track and field team, along with football teammate running back D.J. Abnar, to stay in top shape for the football season.

“I decided what was best for me this year was to run track,” Aikens said. “I need to get a little faster for football and the NFL combine for scouts. They always look for speed and big corners, so it was a career decision.”

Aikens last competed in the Liberty Quads Feb. 8, where he finished first in the men’s long jump with a mark of 7.15m and tied for fourth in the men’s high jump with a height of 1.94m.

Earlier in the year, Aikens led Liberty’s defensive backs after the season-ending injury to Kevin Fogg under first-year Head Coach Turner Gill. As a cornerback, Aikens finished the season with 51 total tackles, an interception and three forced fumbles.

“Coach Gill has a whole different scheme,” Aikens said. “I like the way he thinks, I like the way he works. He has a lot of personality once you get to know him.”

Since transferring to Liberty from the University of Illinois, Aikens has become a polished all-around athlete. With the support of the university sports programs and students, Aikens said that he feels comfortable in the Liberty atmosphere.

“I’m loving it here,” Aikens said. “The people here are real easy to talk to — they love me and I love them. I just love the support they give week in and week out. It doesn’t matter if it is basketball games or football games, or even now into track.”

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