Before the football season, Bishop Gorman running back Biaggio Ali Walsh might have been best known for being the grandson of Muhammad Ali.
Four weeks into the season, Walsh has made his own name.
The junior running back has emerged as arguably the top offensive threat on a loaded Gorman squad, and will lead the top-ranked Gaels (4-0) when they play host to Servite (Calif.) at 7 p.m. today.
“I don’t think it was a surprise to anybody on the team because of how hard he works and how good of a football player he is,” Gorman coach Kenny Sanchez said.
Ali Walsh has rushed for 626 yards and eight touchdowns in the first four games, all against strong out-of-state competition. He also has hauled in a touchdown pass, scored on five plays of 37 or more yards and averaged 11 yards a carry.
“I have been (surprised),” Ali Walsh said. “I worked really hard in the offseason. I feel like it’s starting to pay off now. I worked on my balance, my speed, vision. I feel like it’s now starting to show.”
Ali Walsh has rushed for at least 100 yards in all four games and increased his yardage total every week. Last week against Long Beach (Calif.) Poly, he rushed for 211 yards on 14 carries, earning U.S. Army All-American Bowl High School Player of the Week honors.
“He’s a guy who’s been getting better and better each week,” Sanchez said. “He’s a hard worker, and he’s not just a fast kid, but he’s breaking tackles and stuff like that.”
But the first thing you notice about the 5-foot-10-inch, 181-pound Ali Walsh is his breakaway speed. In the opener against Chandler (Ariz.), quarterback Tate Martell turned and handed the ball to Ali Walsh on a draw play. Almost immediately the quarterback raised his arms to signal touchdown because he knew no one was going to catch Ali Walsh before he had rushed 55 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s got open-field speed, so if he hits a gap, he can be gone,” said Sanchez, who also serves as the defensive coordinator. “To have a guy anywhere on the field that can take it at any point in time, being a defensive coach, is pretty scary. You’ve got to account for him at all times, and so far, so good.”
Ali Walsh got limited carries last season, serving as the team’s No. 3 back as the Gaels captured a mythical national championship and went 15-0. While carrying 49 times, he rushed for 595 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 12.1 yards per carry.
“Last year was huge for him, because he got to play varsity as a sophomore,” Sanchez said. “But he got to see some veteran guys get in there, got to see how the work ethic was, see the grind of the season and go play some out-of-state games as a young guy. Now he’s almost like a veteran, because he’s already been through it.”
Ali Walsh agreed the experience from last season has been invaluable this year as the go-to back.
“If it weren’t for last year, I would have a whole different experience on the varsity level,” he said. “Getting the carries that I got last year, it gave me an experience and wisdom playing on the varsity team this year.”
Sanchez hopes the whole team has wisdom as it looks for its second straight national championship. The Gaels are ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, and Sanchez knows Servite could be a problem if the Gaels aren’t ready, despite the team’s 2-2 record.
“They’re a team that’s very capable of coming in here and beating us if we’re not ready to go,” Sanchez said.
Junior linebacker Farrell Hester thinks the team still has its edge.
“We’ve just been grinding, working hard,” Hester said. “So we’ve got to keep it up, nonstop. We’re not even halfway in the season yet, so we’re still grinding.
“It’s the same as it was when we started. We started off hard, and we have to finish hard. We have to keep going. The pace never slows down, it never stops. We just keep going and going.”
Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him: @DamonSeiters