CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 2013 West Virginia high school football season produced a wealth of impressive defensive linemen, as defensive fronts overshadowed linebacking corps from coalfields to the panhandles.
Class AAA state championship game contestants Martinsburg and Huntington were led by dominating fronts from end to end, but it was a standout for a big-school semifinalist who caught the attention of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association and refused to let go.
The WVSWA chose Capital senior defensive end James Walton (6-foot-1, 245 pounds) as the winner of the Hunt Award, given annually by the organization to the state's best interior lineman. Walton, who also played defensive tackle and center, helped lead the Cougars to an 11-2 record and their first appearance in the playoff semifinals since 1999.
"It feels real good to be in that group of players," Walton said of Hunt Award finalists Nigale Cabell of Huntington, Amanii Brown of Morgantown, Tony Richardson of University and Cody Ballengee of Cabell Midland.
Walton won the award by narrowly edging out Cabell, who finished second. The two are familiar with each other in more than their battles on the football field, Walton said.
"Actually, my battles with him started in middle school wrestling," Walton said. "Our record probably ended up tied against each other. He's just a great player. He's big and quick for his size. He did a lot of damage when he played us. He plays inside, though, and I play outside, really, so we do different things."
Capital lost to Huntington 21-10 in the regular season. The Cougars' other loss came in the semifinals at Martinsburg by a 35-21 final score.
Walton finished the season with 17 quarterback sacks, 31 tackles for loss, three blocked punts, two quarterback hurries that resulted in interceptions and a pass deflection. He said the priorities and personality of the Capital program have changed dramatically since his freshman season of 2010. He credited the changes in the last four years for the team's success as well as his individual honors.