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Bolingbrook’s Damon Walters working toward becoming family’s fourth Division-I athlete

Justin Walters (from left) Damon Walters, Brandon Walters and Kayla Walters pose after one of Brandon's games at Army.

The competition never stopped in the Walters house.

Who could run the most laps by the time a song ended?

Who could get the most crab meat out of a leg?

Who could finish washing the dishes first?

Who could win at Spikeball – or really any game – they played?

“Growing up, it was very competitive at the house but it was because we wanted the best for each other and we wanted each other to be successful athletes in the future,” Damon Walters said. “We all get along with each other really well, and we just push each other to be great as athletes.”

That push made the Walters family exceptional. All three of Damon’s siblings are Division-I athletes. The Bolingbrook junior hopes to be the fourth.

Brandon, the eldest Walters child at 22, just finished his senior season playing football for Army. Kayla, 20, is a junior on the Miami (Ohio) track and field team, and Justin, 19, recently finished his freshman season playing football at Notre Dame.

Damon, 17, holds 24 scholarship offers to play collegiate football.

The Walters’ success is a testament to not only their parents’ dedication but also how competition growing up brought out the best in each.

Now, Damon is ready to take his next step thanks to the love and support of his family.

“I know that I can be in the same position that they are,” Damon said of his siblings. “That gave me the motivation to be in the position that they are.”

‘Never know were it will take you’

Horace and Nicole Walters didn’t enroll their children in sports with the goal of them becoming college athletes.

The parents just wanted their children to be involved in different activities, to have fun, make friends and to learn life lessons along the way.

“We never forced them to do sports. We never said this is the end all be all,” Horace said. “They enjoyed sports and we said, ‘Hey, you’ve got to have high academics if you’re going to play sports. That’s important.’ ”

Their children got involved in different sports from an early age, including football, baseball and gymnastics, to name a few.

The two divided and conquered. Horace would drive to one part of the state for a sporting event, while Nicole would go to another part for a different game.

“It was hectic. I don’t think we were ever off our feet,” Justin said. “I don’t know how my parents did it. ... It could get really hectic, but it makes you appreciate the time we have off.”

When the siblings could go to a game or event, they were the biggest cheerleaders. Horace and Nicole also made sure to videotape all the events so they could watch them together as a family. The tapes helped each athlete look at how they played and learn how to become better.

Brendon, Kayla, Justin and Damon pose after a day of baseball and softball.

The Walters kids credited their parents for not only giving them their athletic genetics, but also instilling a hard work ethic.

“We weren’t just born with the ability to work hard,” Kayla said. “Our parents, from a very young age, taught us how to work hard, taught us perseverance.”

Finding a competitive edge

The Walters’ competitive itch admittedly caused quite a few broken objects and holes in walls throughout the years, but it also helped each athlete build a competitive drive.

Each sibling wanted to build on the other’s success when it came time to decide what they wanted to do after high school.

When Brandon’s coaches told his parents he could have played collegiate football during his sophomore year, his siblings became interested in the process, too.

“They’re able to use that competitive fervor on whatever competitive field they’re competing on,” Nicole said. “They want to go out there and compete.”

Nicole Walters (from left), Kayla, Justin, Horace Walters and Damon stand behind Brendon during his signing day ceremony.

Kayla looked up to Brandon and used him as a model, earning a scholarship for track and field at Miami (Ohio).

Once Justin saw his older siblings succeed, he knew he wanted to one-up them and make his parents proud. He had 23 scholarship offers before he eventually committed to play for Notre Dame.

Brandon always knew his siblings looked up to him. It wasn’t always easy, but Brandon is honored to be the first and set the path.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure that comes with being the oldest,” Brandon said. “My parents have told me since I don’t even know when that my siblings are looking up to me, so it did put a lot of pressure on me to be their role model and not be a perfect person, but the person they can look up to, a person they could look to for help with assistance and look up to a person they want to be.”

Damon is motivated by his siblings’ success. He didn’t think about playing college football when he was younger, but once Brandon started getting recruited to play the sport, he instantly started to learn.

“I just started learning more about the process, and that pushed me to do better and strive to play at the next level like he did,” Damon said.

“That just pushed me to do better and be more like him.”

Finding support

Bolingbrook football coach John Ivlow has coached many siblings throughout his career, but he couldn’t remember many like the three Walters brothers.

All three boys played for the Bolingbrook coach and each impressed him in different ways, building on their brother’s success.

“Usually it’s not like that,” Ivlow said. “You get brothers in the program and they have their strengths and weaknesses and different plusses. I guess at some point you expect a weak link, but no there hasn’t been. It’s been very unique.”

Ivlow thinks Brandon might be the most athletic of the three. He’s the tallest and can cover opponents on defense the best of the three.

Damon has offers from Indiana, Penn State, Kansas State, Cincinnati, Duke, Western Illinois, Buffalo, Illinois, Western Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Bowling Green, Toledo, Boston College, Northwestern, Miami of Ohio, Missouri, Army, Kansas, Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Tennessee.

Damon knows how to handle the process thanks to his siblings. He came along on Justin’s visits so Damon could watch how Justin interacted with the coaches and learned what to look for in a school.

“I think the core of the learning was finding a great school that fits you, fits your personality, has great academics and decent athletics,” Horace said. “That was a common theme. Each progressed with their recruiting.”

Justin, Kayla, Damon and Brendon pose after Kayla's race at the IHSA girls track and field state championships.

Each of Damon’s siblings have shared their wisdom during his recruiting process. They told him what they liked and would do again or other things that he should watch out for and not do.

But they each want their youngest brother to choose a school where he’ll feel comfortable and want him to know that he has their support.

“In the end, it’s going to be his decision and he’s going to be the one going to college, not me,” Brandon said. “I’m going to let him have his freedom with his decision.”

Finding relief

The traveling hasn’t stopped for Horace and Nicole as their children have grown older.

At the beginning of September, the parents traveled about 2,024 miles to watch their children compete. They attended Bolingbrook’s game Friday of Labor Day weekend to watch Damon play. Nicole then went to Atlanta on Saturday to watch Brandon and Army play Georgia State, while Horace and Damon went to Iowa State for a visit.

The parents regrouped back home and went down to Tallahassee that Sunday to watch Justin and Notre Dame play Florida State.

“As I get deeper into athletics and college and realize how rare and difficult it is to become a D-I athlete alone, let alone have four people from the same family become one, I think it’s insane and really admire my brothers and their hard work along with my own,” Kayla said.

Damon is working his way toward his goal. He’s enjoying the recruitment process but is looking forward to making his decision and hopefully becoming the fourth Division-I athlete in the family.

“Going into high school, I knew all my siblings were D-I athletes before me, before I got any offers, so that put a lot of pressure on me to follow in their footsteps and being the last kid of the family,” Damon said. “I felt like I needed to fulfill that goal and also be a D-I athlete and play football at the D-I college. It’s going to relieve a lot of stress and just get to work after that at the college level.”