Danny Walker

Danny Walker

Four FHSAA team state championships, three FHSAA state traditional titles, 17 Coach of the Year awards, two Disney Duals tournament championships, an Adidas Nationals title, and he was inducted into the Florida chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2021.

Still, Lake Gibson wrestling coach Danny Walker isn’t about to quit.

“For so long I thought we were going to be the Buffalo Bills of Florida wrestling,” said Walker, who played baseball at Auburndale High School. “Then, when you win a state title, you don’t want to be known as the coach who only won one. Every time I see those trophies, I want to win more of them. And everyone is trying to catch up to us.”

Walker was only a few years out of high school himself when he found himself coaching.

“My brother wrestled at Lake Region, and I’d go out and support him. I caught the eye of his coach, who asked me if I wanted to be his assistant,” said Walker. “I told him I knew nothing about the sport – he said just spend the summer. Soon, I was going to practice and learning, just like the guys on the team.”

And just like that, Danny Walker, baseball player, caught the wrestling bug. Soon he and his mentor, 2016 Florida Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Kris Hayward, were travelling the state, either competing themselves, bringing wrestlers to competitions, or attending clinics year round.

“Every time I saw something I needed to learn, I wasn’t afraid to ask,” said Walker. “That’s the blue collar nature of this sport – the harder you work, the better you get. Wrestle-offs determine the team’s lineup. You earn everything, and you control your own fate more than in most other sports. I guess that is what drew me to it.”

And when Lake Gibson needed a wrestling coach, that same blue collar work ethic drew him there.

“Lake Gibson is a special place,” Walker said. “This school has the best group of kids. Diversity from top to bottom, including financially, it’s amazing. And that diversity helps. It breeds workaholics, which is what you need to be in this sport.”

Walker shares the work ethic he looks for in his wrestlers.

“Ever since I landed here, I’ve spent part of nearly every day in this office,” he said. “I’ve been here on Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

Arriving to Lake Gibson in 2001, Walker set about to take what was already a good program to the next level.

“I learned a few things those first years, first of all being to talk to the kids,” he said. “When I first started, I tried to coach everyone the same, but you can’t. Everyone is different. You can’t just focus on winning. That’s the secret. You have to know their future plans. They don’t go to the mat planning to lose. So I sit them down and talk to them, learn about them and see what I can do to make them better.”

That connection to the wrestlers continues well after graduation.

“The alumni are great,” said Walker. “A lot come back and try to help. They try to stay on the mat as long as they can.”

And after 21 years coaching, he’s now coaching the children of alumni as well.

“Mostly in my youth club,” he said. “Thanks to the alumni support, we’ve definitely built a system. And they do all sorts of fundraisers for us, which really helps a lot. They try to give back every way they can.”

As does Walker, who understands that he is just one of many coaches who put Florida wrestling on the map nationally.

“They’ve all helped make us all better coaches and programs,” he said. “The state owns a debt of gratitude to coaches like Russ Cozart, Victor Balmeceda and Kris Hayward. Their winning motivated me, and made the whole state better.”

Danny isn’t the only coach in the Walker family. Wife Ashley Walker is the volleyball coach at Lake Gibson. Their daughter, Alexis, is a setter at Lourdes University in Toledo, Ohio. But there was a time she wanted to be on the mat.

“She was raised in this gym,” he said. “At the time, there weren’t a lot of girls wrestling – and she found volleyball. Today, the girl wrestlers are legitimate and hold their own. And now that it is sanctioned, it won’t be long until we have a champion out of Lake Gibson. You just watch.”