C-K graduate Walter named Bulldogs’ coach

Gabe Walter came up as a guard and defensive end through the Claysburg-Kimmel football program when the Bulldogs were at their height.

The school turned to him at its school board meeting on Wednesday night to try to get back there.

“Being an alumni, I always had a deep passion for Claysburg-Kimmel football. I enjoyed playing there, and, when this opportunity opened up, it was something I wanted to do,” Walter said.

The 35-year-old health care professional will move up from a three-year stint as C-K’s junior high defensive coordinator and varsity volunteer to take over for Joe Kitt, who stepped down after a 4-6 campaign. Walter also assisted his former Bulldog coach, Jeff Lingenfelter, in 1999 and 2000.

“He’s a local boy. He went through our program,” said school board member and activity committee chairman Denny Cowher. “He has limited experience, but he does have experience in our program.”

All but one school board member voted in favor of hiring Walter. Vernon Walter cast the only dissenting vote.

The new coach will be paid $4,050 per year.

“He has a good, sound philosophy,” Cowher said.

That philosophy is similar to the one that produced a 39-12-1 record at Claysburg from 1990-94.

“I always felt our most successful years were built on hard work and toughness, a very blue-collar approach to playing football. I feel that’s the beauty of small-school football: outworking your opponent,” Walter said. “We’re going to return to more of a smash-mouth style of football. But we’re not averse to opening it up. It’s all based on personnel.”

Walter said he wants his players to emulate the likes of Aaron Burket, Chad Zembower, Steve Miller and Shawn Fickes, who were the pillars of those early-90s C-K squads. The Bulldogs had a player that fit that mold last season with 1,500-yard rusher Zach Helsel, but he has graduated, along with many of Claysburg’s other skill position starters.

“I think this is a good jump-off point for us,” Walter said. “We definitely have to look for new ways to win. Zach Helsel was a phenomenal player. He did it as well as probably anyone we’ve seen in the region. We had a really good supporting cast around him – Devin Weyandt, Trey Claar – but a lot of those guys are no longer with us.

“I think where our strength is going to be is we’ve got a really nice line returning. Our line is going to take us as far as we’re going to go.”

A 2001 Mount Aloysius College graduate, Walter said he expects Zembower and Burket to be part of his staff. He’ll also get to coach his 15-year-old son, Bryce, but he said that’s just a perk to the job, that it wasn’t his primary reason to pursue the opening.

Working with his son’s friends, though, was.

“For me, it’s all about the kids. It really is. I learned a lot from the school and a lot from playing in that football program. I want them to have that same experience and the same opportunities,” Walter said.

“We just feel that he’ll be an excellent role model,” Cowher said.

Staff writer Ryan Brown contributed to this story.