REINBECK — Walker Thede’s introduction to high school football was less than glamorous.
A shy, undersized scout team quarterback, he took his share of licks during practice, trying to keep faith he’d have an opportunity to become a difference-maker down the road.
“Freshman year, coming in I was extremely shy, I wasn’t able to talk to anyone,” Thede recalls. “It was day after day, getting hit and hit. I did start to wonder if come around senior year I’d be able to be big enough to compete against everyone else.”
A well-timed growth spurt prior to his sophomore year helped Thede become a contributor in what has been a run of success across multiple sports at Gladbrook-Reinbeck High School.
The five-sport athlete has been a member of programs that have reached state in baseball, soccer, basketball and football during his high school years. Thede grew from the scout team to a sophomore starting cornerback on a state championship football squad. That title run was followed with an undefeated 2016 season and a perfect 5-0 start to this 2017 campaign.
“I remember being out on the field when the final buzzer went off,” Thede said, reflecting back on his first state title. “I looked over to one of my best friends, Hunter Lott, and I was able to tell him that we finally did it. It’s something we always talked about.”
Thede has played almost every possible role within a team, from a dynamic forward on the soccer pitch to a supporting role-player on the hardcourt where 2017 Mr. Basketball Joe Smoldt lit up the scoreboard.
“It seems too good to be true, but it’s even more stressful having good team after good team, because at some point you start to feel a lot of responsibility on yourself,” Thede said. “At the same time, it’s so much fun. Track meets and soccer games, you meet so many new people. ... I appreciate everything my coaches have done for me.”
Gladbrook-Reinbeck coach John Olson certainly feels Thede has brought a lot to his football program’s winning culture.
“This year he plays free safety and outside linebacker for us,” Olson said. “He’s a senior and knows what’s going on. He’s pretty smart, he has great instincts, not to mention unbelievable speed and quickness. He returned four punts and a kickoff for a touchdown last year.
“Everything I said about him so far is second to how good he is as a receiver. He has good route-running skills, and he adjusts awesome to the ball in the air.”
After ranking fourth on last year’s undefeated team in receiving yardage, Thede and fellow senior receiver Matt Johannsen have benefited from a more pass-focused offense this season. Thede has 20 catches for 441 yards and five scores for Class A’s No. 2-ranked Rebels, while Johanssen has hauled in 15 receptions for 395 yards and seven touchdowns. Thede also averages 10.5 yards per rush with two touchdowns on 17 carries.
During Friday’s 38-13 win over B-G-M, Thede turned five receptions into 212 yards and three scores and added a field goal. Seth Gretillat is also in the mix within a corps of receivers that has bonded with Lott at quarterback.
“We all grew up together,” said Thede, who entered high school after playing on undefeated teams at every level of youth football. “Us and Hunter, we’ve all become extremely close friends. I think that is able to keep us going and make some connections that a lot of teams don’t have.”
Inspired by his dad, Barry, who works as a Youth Sports Foundation coach, Walker Thede is active throughout his school district. He’ll go from practice over to Gladbrook to work the JV football chain gang and watch his sophomore brother Eli compete.
Thede also helps announce YSF games, refs flag flootball, line judges or works scoreboard for volleyball matches and assists at cross country meets. The once shy high school freshman is now working to inspire younger children in the community.
“All the sports achievements and stuff are great, but what I take pride in is being a role model to these younger kids,” said Thede, who plans to major in engineering and play football or soccer at the collegiate level. “There’s a lot of kids that come up to me and yell out my name and give me a high five. A lot of it is because I love to be involved in my community.
“I’m extremely proud of how far this team has come and our community, all together. I wouldn’t trade these four years I’ve been here for the world.”