After he introduced himself to me, Kurt Walding led us to the seats of his choice in the auditorium of Arizona State’s student-athlete facility. Walding quickly gave off a vibe most people do growing up in the Midwest. The walk-on redshirt sophomore from Iowa Western is the typical laid-back, very polite guy, that is raised in that part of the country.
“It’s just a great place to grow up. That’ll be my home for forever, I definitely love it there,” he said to answer the question of how he felt about his home state of Iowa.
Some might be surprised by this answer, thinking Iowa is just cornfields. The state is simple, much like Walding’s personality. Although, for the Des Moines, Iowa native his football path has been anything but simple.
With sophomore Ryan Kelley recovering from shoulder surgery, Walding has taken the third string spot this fall behind Manny Wilkins and Dillon Sterling-Cole. That has been one of the few things to go Walding’s way over the past few years.
During his senior year at Dowling Catholic High School, he split time as the starting quarterback for the undefeated Maroons. Until the state’s semi-final game when his teammate and fellow quarterback J.T. Brown suffered a knee injury. Walding finished the game to get Dowling to the 4A Iowa state title game.
Walding then made his first start of the year against Kennedy High School in the title matchup. Throwing for 113 yards, adding 46 more on the ground along with a touchdown, Walding earned MVP honors. His performance helped Dowling secure their third straight championship with a 41-10 victory.
What did he have to say about his senior year?
“We just had a great team that year. It was pretty fun,” he said.
For a guy splitting time his senior year, there could’ve been a lot of different answers. But he could care less about how his team took home another title. He simply wanted to be the best teammate possible.
To learn even more about Walding’s character on and off the field, the story of his next step of his career tells it all.
Walding redshirted his first year out of high school at the junior college of Iowa Western before getting into a position competition with Kai Locksley last season. The former four-star recruit for the Texas Longhorns seemed to have the edge over a part-time high school starter in Walding. Although, that wasn’t the case as Walding earned the opening day start for the Reivers.
The Reivers won Walding’s first two starts, while Locksley got action as well, the majority of the snaps belonged to Walding. Before the third game of the season, Locksley tragically lost his older brother, Malko, who was shot and killed last September. Walding knowing this, wanted to do something for his teammate and he got together with head coach Scott Strohmeier to do so.
“Me and the head coach decided that we would give Kai the start for the third game,” Walding said. “He started that game and played really well.”
Locksley threw for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns. That earned him more playing time, and cut down Walding’s snaps. Walding played every game in the season, but the role as the primary guy was now Locksley’s. Only 55 of Walding’s 105 pass attempts came after those first two games before his offer to his teammate. But he doesn’t regret a thing.
“He took the reigns over from there. It was a tough situation, but I feel like I made the right decision,” Walding said. “And if I could do it over again I’d do the same thing.”
Locksley earned a scholarship to UTEP, while Walding walked on to the Sun Devils after the quarterback room opened up with the transfers of Blake Barnett and Brady White. It might not be the most ideal position, but Walding has learned plenty from the past few years.
“What I’ve learned most, you got to bet on yourself. You got to turn bad situations into good situations. It’s all God’s plan. I know I’m here for a reason,” he said. “I’m just going to keep working really hard. I know for myself, I’m just going to prevail.”
In the short time he’s called Tempe home, he’s made plenty of relationships. Walding is forever grateful the ‘awesome,’ Herm Edwards gave him a chance to be a Sun Devil. Working with the caliber of a wide receiver of N’Keal Harry, Walding describes him, ‘as good as it gets.’
Walding has also made bonds with the others in his JUCO transfer class.
“All the newcomers are pretty close. We have a really talented class coming in, it’s just really exciting,” he said. “I think it’s easy for me to relate to other junior college kids like [running back] Isaiah Floyd, [wide receiver] Brandon Aiyuk. Those dudes I’ve been pretty close with.”
The best connection he’s made at Arizona State so far, it that with Manny Wilkins. Wilkins, who knows plenty about adversity and even a fanbase that goes back-and-forth about him has been a major hand to Walding.
“I can’t even believe that people don’t even like Manny. He’s easily the best leader I’ve been around, the best quarterback I’ve been around,” he said. “He’s just such a great guy. And someone you can really grow from, learn from. I owe a lot of my growth so far to him.”
Speaking about Wilkins the conversation turned to a question a lot of Sun Devil fans wondered about a third string non-scholarship quarterback, is if he’d be ready in the emergency situation. That being the situation the Sun Devils were put in during the 2016 season when Wilkins and White both missed time leading to an unprepared Dillon Sterling-Cole thrown into the fire as a starting quarterback.
Walding didn’t blink or even think twice before he answered if he would be ready or not.
“I definitely feel ready,” he said. “I’ve been playing football my whole life, that’d be an amazing opportunity. Hopefully, nothing happens to Manny because like I said he’s a great leader and a great guy. But if my name were to be called I’d be ready.”
His goals do include being the starter, but that’ll be an uphill climb. Of course, that’s nothing Walding hasn’t experienced once or twice. There’s also a few things that don’t involve playing he wants to gain in his first year of Division I football.
“I want to be selfless, just a team player and whatever coach Edwards or coach [Rob] Likens want me to do, that’s what I’m going to do,” Walding said. “If my name is called for some reason, I really want to make the most of my opportunities. I want to work on being the best teammate I can. The best leader I can. And just being a selfless teammate leading by example.”
Walding is now pushing Sterling-Cole for the backup spot. The once mystery quarterback to myself and most of Sun Devil nation is a ‘chill’ individual as he describes himself. He plays ‘Fortnite,’ with friends as do most college students. He’s just a normal kid that happens to play football.
For the question of who is behind Wilkins and Sterling-Cole on the depth chart as many have asked this fall, the answer is someone who is striving to be the best player. Best teammate and the best person he can be. And that someone is just a kid from Des Moines, Iowa named Kurt Walding.