[THIRTEEN FOR '13] Considered the top two underclassmen in the college ranks, Louisville's Andrew Farrell and Furman's
Walker Zimmerman have lots in common. Both are defenders. Both hail from programs that have a record of producing MLS-material players. And both come from
families of missionaries.
Farrell's father, Hunter, is a career missionary with the Presbyterian Church while Zimmerman's dad, David, was a Baptist minister for 21 years and now works as a mentor with Church Resource Ministries.
While Andrew Farrell learned his soccer in Lima, Peru, Walker Zimmerman played youth soccer in Lawrenceville, Ga.
Georgia doesn't have an MLS team or a major Division I men's program but it has a long history of producing players. U.S. internationals include Clint Mathis, Josh Wolff, Ricardo Clark and Sean Johnson. It is also a huge sports state, and Zimmerman grew up playing basketball and baseball as well as soccer. Sports are in his blood.
"My grandfather and great grandfather played D-I football and both were captains at Auburn University," he says on his web page walkerzimmerman.com. "My aunt is in a Tennis Hall of Fame and I have a few cousins who played college tennis as well."
Zimmerman, whose brother Dawson was a star punter at Clemson, began playing in the Gwinnett Soccer Association at U-6, and his talents were evident by the time he moved to the U-8s.
“Walker, you are an athlete playing soccer," the director of coaching told him. "What you want to become is a soccer player who is an athlete.”
Many players with Zimmerman's talents might have jumped from team to team, but he stayed at GSA for his entire career.
"I am a loyalist," he says, "and besides that I really couldn’t beat the training I was getting. Nuno Pitiera was a great coach and a caring man."
For a young athlete with his many talents, Zimmerman chose soccer over his other sports relatively early when he earned a call-up to the under-14 national team camp.
"Early on," he says in his blog, "I didn’t know what sports arena I would end up making an impact in. I just knew that I was destined to play something."
But everything didn't come easily for Zimmerman. At 15, he grew four inches in two months and suffered from Sever's Disease, a common but painful foot injury youth experience during growth spurts. He later broke three metatarsal bones in his foot, which meant he missed out on attending the U-17 residency camp and playing on the U-17 national team.
For the 6-foot-3 Zimmerman, there were other opportunities after his foot injuries healed. He stood out on a USYS-sponsored trip the Region III team took to Argentina in February 2009. One of the coaches on the trip was Doug Allison. What should out for the Furman coach was how Zimmerman -- the preacher's son -- handled himself off the field, with his teammates and with strangers.
Allison convinced the 6-foot-3 Zimmerman Furman was the place he could grow as a player, and he chose Furman over South Carolina, where Mathis and Wolf played, and ACC schools Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest.
Zimmerman's enrollment at Furman in January 2011 coincided with new opportunities in the national team program. He captained the U-18s at the 2011 Milk Cup, and he is under consideration for the U-20 team that will participate in Concacaf qualifying early next year though a slight injury kept him out of the recent camp in Florida.
Clark was taken by the MetroStars with the No. 2 pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft when he came out of Furman as a sophomore, Clint Dempsey played three years for the Palladins before he went with the No. 8 pick to New England a year later.
Zimmerman, who says he's signed a Generation adidas contract, might not be as polished as Farrell, but could go with one of the top three picks in the draft. He has a huge upside and a strong belief, based in his faith, of what he can accomplish.
“I’ve known what my goal has been for a long time, and I know what I have to do to achieve those goals,” Zimmerman told the Greenville News. “For me, it’s just managing my time wisely and then just walking a straight line and a consistent path, and that will take me where I want to go.”