Elija Walton leads North Marion football, earns FBS scholarship
As the North Marion High School Colts football team trotted back out on the field for their game against West Port High School, head coach Greg Carr glanced at his star wide receiver, senior Elija Walton, 17, warming up with a game of catch before the second half.
The coach was thinking his player had been too quiet and needed a second-half worthy of a heart-thumping sports video. “We need to get him some highlights,” Carr said.
The coach’s focus on Walton is understandable.
Walton is a highly touted athlete heading to the top level of college football, the football bowl subdivision (FBS), next season at Georgia Southern University. That night, though, Walton had been relatively quiet on the field through two quarters of play.
Stadium lights shone down on Walton’s pink headband. Carr understood his team needed to involve its leader.
And right on cue, Walton staged a second-half outburst, scoring a touchdown.
Under the direction of Carr, 37, who boasts an accolade-laden college football resume himself, Walton became the first player from North Marion to reach the FBS in his time playing for the Colts.
“It means a lot because it shows the younger guys around me that it is possible,” Walton said.
Walton plays in Citra, Florida, a town north of Ocala with a population less than 7,000, but he is originally from Columbus, Georgia. His connections to high-level football run deeper than his head coach; his older brother, Kiante, played football at the University of Indiana.
Walton met Carr when he arrived at North Marion. He started playing with some of the high school players when he was in eighth grade.
Carr himself excelled as a wide receiver while at North Marion. All-State honors his junior and senior seasons in 2002 and 2003 were enough to earn offers from national programs such as the University of Georgia, University of Florida and University of Miami, but he chose to continue his education at Florida State University.
The Seminole totaled over 2,500 receiving yards and scored 29 touchdowns in his career at FSU. After a stint with the San Diego Chargers of the National Football League and then trips to the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League, Carr wanted to get into coaching.
“When I was done playing football, the first place I thought to come back to was home,” Carr said. “I want to bring all the experiences I’ve had and things I’ve seen, and bring that back here.”
North Marion athletic director Dale Hall, having been at the school for over 20 years, saw Carr as a player and then was involved in hiring him as a coach.
“Greg has had a very positive impact on our football program,” Hall said. “He cares for his players, and it shows. Those guys are willing to do anything for him.”
This year marks Carrs’ fifth back at North Marion, though it's also his first as head coach. Still, he’s had a front-row seat to Waltons’ entire career as a Colt. Carr said he started out as a quarterback as a freshman, but it took just a few reps at wide receiver to make the decision to swap positions simple.
“We put him at receiver against West Port,” Carr said. “He caught a post route and went 70, 80 yards untouched. After that point, I said ‘No more quarterback talk, it’s receiver talk from now on.’”
Walton entered his senior campaign with more than 300 receiving yards already under his belt. The 6-foot-4-inch receiver has equaled that amount and then some, registering 475 receiving yards through six games in 2022.
Walton also competes on North Marion’s track and field team in the off-season. His third-place finish at the state level for high jump is just another indicator of his elite athletic talents. Beyond his ability, though, the senior has grown into a role model for his team.
“He’s a guy that will give his teammates the shirt off his back,” Carr said. “He’s a guy that the younger guys can look at and want to emulate, from his work in the classroom to extra work in the weight room.”
When he isn’t on the field, Walton can usually be found on the sidelines near his coach watching his teammates play. The elite athlete leads by example instead of shouting orders at his teammates.
“He’s not very vocal, but he’s a ‘I’ll show you what I mean’ type of guy,” Carr said.
As his final year as a Colt wraps up, Walton helped his team win the final regular season game of the year against Seabreeze High School by a score of 55-34. The Colts fell to Eastside High School in their first playoff game, ending Walton’s season.
Still, the end of his high school career and the impending transition to college marks a goal fulfilled and a dream realized.
“It means a lot because it shows the younger guys around me that it is possible,” Walton said. “Just be patient, and your time will come.”