James Walton has not disappointed Outlaws’ lofty expectations

2009-08-14T00:40:00Z James Walton has not disappointed Outlaws’ lofty expectationsMIKE ZIMMER Gazette Sports Editor The Billings Gazette
August 14, 2009 12:40 am  • 

Chris Dixon likes everything about James Walton. Except his shoes.

In fact, the Billings Outlaws quarterback has so much disdain for his receiver's faded blue and white Nike Air Force low-tops that he wants to own them. So he can bury them.

A one-on-one basketball game - for the shoes - has been scheduled. And the trash-talking has already begun - Dixon insisting that Walton will have no answer for his quickness and Walton confident that his four-inch height advantage will enable him to keep his favorite shoes.

Before that big game, however, comes another one. Dixon and Walton will be on the same team Saturday afternoon when the Outlaws (14-2) host the River City Rage (11-6) in the inaugural Indoor Football League championship game.

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, where Billings will be trying to win its second league championship in four years. The Outlaws won the National Indoor Football League title on their home field in 2006.

When Outlaws coach Heron O'Neal traded star defensive end Eugene Phillips for Walton in January, he had big expectations for the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder.

Robert Reed, the Outlaws' all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving TDs, retired at the end of last season and is now the team's offensive coordinator, Walton, meanwhile, caught 50 touchdown passes for the Bloomington Extreme in 2007 and '08, leading the United Indoor Football league both years with totals of 22 and 28.

The 26-year-old has met, and exceeded, those expectations. His 36 touchdown catches this season is 10 more than anyone else in the league - Wichita's Clinton Solomon is second with 26 - and nearly half of Dixon's league-leading 75 TD passes.

"The guy has been unbelievable," said O'Neal. "We had a pretty good idea of what we were getting, because we played against Bloomington when James was there and we saw him at the (UIF) all-star game.

"But for him to come in and get 36 touchdowns is unbelievable. This is just the first year of this league, but that's a league record that's going to be tough for anyone to break."

Walton was well aware of the expectations.

"No doubt. I knew I had a lot to live up to here," said Walton, who's caught 74 passes for 1,022 yards on the season. "With Robert Reed retiring and Anthony Candler not playing this year (due to injury), Coach O'Neal wanted somebody Chris (Dixon) could count on. That's what I was brought here to do.

"And it's not just me … we've got a great receiving corps here. Robert Redd is a proven star in arena football and Eric McCain is a phenomenal rookie."

Walton said he knew touchdowns would come easier as an Outlaw than they did in Bloomington.

"I'd be lying if I said I was surprised to have 36," he said. "I knew it was going to be a lot easier road for me to score in this offense. With a great quarterback like Chris, the other receivers we have here, an offensive coordinator like Robert, two great running backs, a great offensive line … it's just a loaded offense.

"This offense is so balanced, to be honest with you I don't feel like I've had to work that hard for my touchdowns. A lot of times I've been able to just sneak past people."

With his height, great hands and great jumping ability - combined with Dixon's pinpoint accuracy - Walton is almost impossible to stop in the red zone. But he can also get it done in the open field, as evidenced by his 45-yard catch and run for a score in the Outlaws' 66-35 semifinal win over El Paso.

"We give James a hard time all the time about being slow," said O'Neal with a smile. "But he always says 'I'm fast enough.' And he's right.

"With his size and his long strides, it doesn't look like he's running that fast. But he hasn't been caught from behind all season. He's just fast enough to run away from whoever's chasing him."

Walton will be playing in his second consecutive league championship game on Saturday. The Sioux Falls Storm edged Walton's Bloomington team 40-35 in last year's UIF title game.

"This is definitely a redemption game for me," said Walton. "We were so close last year … I'm excited to have another shot at it.

"Playing for a championship is the No. 1 reason I came here. Not only to play for a championship, but to do it on our home field. This team started the season with a goal of getting home-field advantage, and we got it. Now we have to go out and take care of business on Saturday."

NOTES: The Metra ticket office will be open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. today. On Saturday, the ticket office will open at 9:30 a.m. and the arena doors will open at 12:30 p.m. …. A ticket to the championship game is also good for admission to MontanaFair, which ends at midnight Saturday night.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Five on Five
Five Billings Gazette sports staffers offer their opinions on five sports topics.

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses