By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Fran Walsh will do the same thing on Friday, March 1, as he’s done a number of times before. The Archbishop Wood three-year starter will lean forward, say a little prayer to himself, then kiss the wristbands he’s been wearing the last five years.
On March 1, Walsh will be honored by the prestigious Maxwell Football Club at its annual gala at Harrah’s Atlantic City Resort as the Jim Henry Award winner, honoring the most outstanding player in Pennsylvania, not only for their play on the field, but for their exemplary community service and outstanding academics.
Walsh, the Vikings’ terrific 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior center, was a major reason Wood returned to the PIAA Class AAA state championship game this season. He anchored Wood’s offensive line last year when the Vikings finished as the best team in the state, despite its Class AAA classification, going 15-1. Wood beat Bishop McDevitt (Harrisburg), 52-0, the largest point difference in the 25-year history of the Pennsylvania state championships.
There is a deep sentiment that motivates Walsh. A memory, and a vision he’ll always cherish, and that’s of his father, Matthew, who died of brain cancer on June 20, 2008. Prior to each game, Fran will seal away everything for a few moments, say a prayer to himself and kiss the cancer rubber wristbands his father once wore.
Matthew Walsh coached his son since fifth grade. He’s the one who spent the time teaching proper technique, and the values of practice and diligence. Matthew Walsh is the one who lit the path his son has followed, blazing a pretty amazing trail of his own.
Consider this: Wood has only lost five games in the four years Fran has been there. Yes, the Vikings are a considerably talented team, but they’ve also been a team, under coach Steve Devlin, that’s sum is far greater than its individual parts. And it’s been players like Fran Walsh that have served as bridge-cable strong connections.
“I’ve been playing football since fifth grade and I think that was the hard part, my father was my coach from fifth to eighth grade and I actually thought about not playing without him in my life,” said Fran, who carries a 4.0 GPA and scored an 1,840 on the SAT. “But I stuck with it, and it’s a reason why I went to Wood, because I had good mentors there and good men in my life at Wood. Coach Devlin, all of the coaches at Wood, and the Bux-Mont Saints CYO team. They’ve all supported me.
“I play to honor my father—and that’s basically what it turned into. I wasn’t sure I wanted to play without him there and my mom thought it was best for me to continue. It really turned into playing for him, so every game before I go out, I say a prayer, and kiss my father’s cancer wristbands that I wear.”
So before Walsh sits on the dais March 1 with the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, the 54th Bert Bell winner as the NFL’s Player of the Year, and with Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians, dually selected as the 24th Greasy Neale winner as the NFL’s Coach of the Year Award, he’ll lean forward somewhere private, say a little prayer and kiss the wristbands he never takes off.
“I talk about my father today with a smile; when we were at his viewing, everyone that came up to me had an awesome story of my father, and how highly everyone thought of him, my father touched a lot of lives as a coach,” Fran said. “Surprise would be an understatement to win the Jim Henry Award. It’s a special award and even sitting at the Mini-Max dinner a few weeks ago, I thought to myself, every single player there was an extraordinary guy. I can’t wait for the dinner March 1. I know my father will be looking down smiling that day and all the prayer that it took to get here.”