GRAY -- The senior year of Walker Juhan was going to be a good one.
The summer between his junior and senior years at Jones County had hardly reached the midway point, when everything seemed to fall apart as Juhan suffered a torn ACL during a non-contact football drill.
“Just made a cut on a swing pass,” said Jones County football head coach Justin Rogers, who had been on the job only a few months when a huge part of the offense went down. “That was it.”
And so ended the high school football career of a running back who had rushed for 1,074 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior. That followed 1,215 yards as a sophomore.
Juhan was devastated and out of sight.
“We never saw him,” Rogers said. “Senior year, he didn’t know how good he would be. It hit him hard. He was kind of MIA.”
For nearly two months after the mid-June injury, Juhan’s friends and teammates found out what it was like for defenders to get him: difficult.
“Sports in general is what I love,” Juhan said. “When an injury like that happened and it took me out of it, I just didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Around the beginning of preseason football practice, Juhan came around and was pretty much all in with the Greyhounds after that.
“I couldn’t sit around and mope for myself and feel sorry for myself,” he said. “Finally, I got myself together.”
Of course, there were some natural mixed emotions as he watched Jones County’s historic season, including a home win over Northside and a trip to the GHSA Class AAAAA quarterfinals, unfold. But the senior year has turned out to be a mighty good one after all.
Juhan and his Jones County baseball teammates are in the GHSA Class AAAAA baseball semifinals, a nice spot for a team that didn’t reach the postseason the past two seasons and hasn’t gone very far in a while. And the cleanup hitter is having a pretty good time doing his part.
“About .400 right now,” said Juhan of his batting average, the first statistic he quickly reeled off when asked. “Six (homers). 38 (RBI), 12 (steals). Six (errors).”
It’s more than worth noting that this almost didn’t happen.
Juhan has played football and baseball since he was about 5, and football was always No. 1. And just before the resume-building senior year, it was gone. The football fire burned, and Juhan thought about not playing baseball as a senior so he could focus on rehabilitation and getting some form of college scholarship for football.
It wasn’t like he had a so-so career in baseball until this season, ranking among Jones County’s top offensive weapons as a sophomore and junior, yet he still considered hanging up the bat.
But people started to talk to him about baseball and how it might be a good way to show colleges how healthy he was.
“At first, I was playing baseball just to play baseball, a sport,” Juhan said.
Baseball head coach Jason Page got that feeling, that Juhan wasn’t quite completely invested in his second-favorite sport.
“We kind of said, ‘Be here or don’t be here,’ ” Page said, summarizing the conversation. “I think he was about half-heartedly out here to start with.”
Soon enough, team chemistry took over.
“I came back from my injury, got to playing baseball and enjoying it so much with these guys,” Juhan said. “I put football behind me once I got out here playing baseball.”
Football still has a large place in Juhan’s mind but not in the front anymore.
“I got out here and started having fun, realizing it was fun,” he said.
And he has remained upright a lot more in baseball. An injury his sophomore year ended his football season, and he focused on baseball. An injury interrupted his junior season, and he focused on baseball.
Then there was last summer.
“When you look at my numbers in baseball, it shows I’m a good baseball player and a healthy baseball player,” he said. “When I played football, I had real good numbers, but I’d get hurt.
“So I figured if I go play college baseball, I could last, I might play for a while.”
Rogers said Juhan’s college football prospects were better at outside linebacker, a position Juhan was familiar with only from avoiding it when running the ball. And Juhan would have gotten some time at linebacker to get some film evidence of his ability for colleges.
He qualified early for a full NCAA Division I scholarship, but college football teams naturally started backing off after the injury. And playing baseball in college wasn’t a thought until this season.
Juhan will play at Gordon State, a junior college in Barnesville that had five Middle Georgians on the 2015 roster, including Jones County’s Crandall Poore.
Chase Raffield went from Bleckley County to Gordon State to Georgia State and is in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system. And Telfair County’s Aaron Mizell turned a good Gordon State career into a pair of solid seasons at Georgia Southern.
As a qualifier, Juhan can move on to a four-year program after a year and doesn’t have to graduate from junior college, which non-qualifiers must do before advancing.
But Juhan is in no hurry to start worrying about that.
The Greyhounds are in the Class AAAAA semifinals and visit Gainesville on Monday to open the best-of-three series. Of the 24 semifinal teams still playing in the four biggest classes, Jones County is the lowest seed, third.
The football team surprised the state by reaching the Class AAAAA quarterfinals, and the boys basketball team did the same thing. The baseball team is in a spot not many expected.
Football and that knee injury are almost a lifetime ago for Juhan.
“Well, I haven’t forgotten about (football), but I did put it behind me,” Juhan said. “I wanted to be the best at playing whatever sport I played, so I worked and worked and had fun out here. And the farther and farther we go, the closer we get, the more we work.”
As he talks about his team, he could be talking about himself.
“We’re not done yet,” Juhan said. “I hope it keeps getting better.”