Waverly-Shell Rock's Jake Walker commits to both wrestle and play football at Wartburg

Cody Goodwin
Des Moines Register

Jake Walker, Waverly-Shell Rock’s talented multi-sport senior, couldn’t decide whether to play football or wrestle in college, so he found a school that's going to let him do both.

Walker announced his commitment to Division III Wartburg on Monday, choosing to stay home over other opportunities from Northern Iowa, Navy, and even Iowa, among others. He projects as a heavyweight wrestler and future contributor on the defensive line.

“Just couldn’t give up football quite yet,” Walker told the Des Moines Register. “Plus I get to do it in front of my hometown, which is freaking awesome.”

Waverly-Shell Rock's Jake Walker, right, wrestles Dowling Catholic's Carson Hagan at 285 pounds during the Class 3A state wrestling tournament semifinals Feb. 17 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.

Walker is both an all-state football player and an All-American wrestler for the Go-Hawks. As his recruiting process unfolded, he was pulled in many directions as he decided which sport to play — and there were many opportunities for both.

On the mat, Walker finished his prep career as a four-time state medalist and three-time Class 3A state finalist with a 139-24 career record. He helped the Go-Hawks to three traditional state team championships and three more state duals crowns.

Nationally, Walker is considered the No. 123 overall prospect in the 2023 class by MatScouts. He is also ranked No. 19 nationally at 285 pounds. He earned All-American honors at both the 16U and Junior national championships, and twice finished in the top-six at the Cadet freestyle world team trials.

On the gridiron, Walker was a force at defensive tackle, earning first-team All-Iowa honors this past season. He helped Waverly-Shell Rock to a 20-3 record over the last two seasons, during which he racked up a combined 56 tackles, including 22.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

From a recruiting standpoint, Walker was an under-the-radar prospect in both sports. He had conversations with coaches about playing football at Northern Iowa, wrestling at Navy, and even trying both at Iowa, alongside Iowa City High’s Ben Kueter. 

Ultimately, he decided to stay home and do both. His father, Steve, is an assistant athletic director at Wartburg. His mom, Jennifer, coaches the women’s volleyball team. He’s known wrestling coach Eric Keller and head football coach Eric Winter since he was very young. The familiarity paired with his desires to play both sports won out.

“They said they would work with me,” Walker said when asked how he might balance both sports, “which is probably what every coach has told an athlete trying to do both, but I’ve known these coaches since I was young so I believe these guys.”

On top of that, Walker is stepping into two programs who consistently compete for championships at the Division III level.

Wartburg wrestling is one of the D-III’s legendary wrestling brands, with 15 national team titles and another 10 runner-up finishes since 1993. The Knights’ football program is also 50-10 over the last five seasons, with four postseason appearances, reaching the NCAA quarterfinals in 2017 and the semifinal round this past season.

"I am excited to announce that I will be furthering my academic and athletic career at Wartburg College," Walker wrote in an Instagram post, announcing his decision. "I would like to thank my coaches, teammates and family for supporting me to get to this point."

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at@codygoodwin.