By Todd Hummel
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Mike Walter II can't help but be interested in auto racing.
He's the son of sprint car driver Mike Walter, and nephew of another, Phil Walter, and the senior at Selinsgrove has already raced a 410 sprint car at Port Royal Raceway and has also raced at Big Diamond Raceway and Selinsgrove Speedway in his young life. In fact, the younger Walter has been driving either a race car or a go-kart since he was a little kid.
This means a decision Walter -- also the son of Jan Brunson of Middleburg -- made earlier this year seemed strange at first glance.
"I decided I wasn't going to race this summer," Walter said. "I decided to give up racing for a couple of years."
However, there was one big factor in Walter's decision. It was a chance in his senior year to return the Seals to prominence and erase the memories of a 1-9 season in 2011.
"Mike was always a source of comfort for the coaching staff (in the bleak times)," Selinsgrove coach Dave Hess said. "He always had the confidence that we were going to turn this thing around this year. He always takes the leadership role and makes the right decisions."
So to give up one of his life's passions wasn't so surprising.
"We used last season as motivation (in winter workouts)," Walter said. "Then in the preseason, we were picked second-to-last in the Heartland and that served as another kick in the butt to fire us up."
Fast forward to the weekend of Thanksgiving and the Seals are in a familiar position -- District 4 Class AAA champions and headed to Mansion Park in Altoona to take on University Prep at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.
Hess said some of that is due in large part to Walter's leadership.
"Mike is such a team guy and the type of guy you want in the fox hole with you," Hess said.
Walter began his senior season as one of the featured running backs for the Seals. He has 410 yards and is tied for the team lead in rushing scores with nine, but the bulk of that work came in the early season. Since the emergence of freshman Juvon Batts as the halfback, Walter has seen his carries dwindle. After 55 carries in the first four contests, Walter didn't have a double-figure carry game until he had 12 in the district final against Milton.
But that switch in roles was no big deal.
"I do like running the ball the most," Walter admitted. "This was the first time in my career that I've gotten a lot of carries on offense, but I had no problem with (giving up carries)."
Walter enjoys blocking for the explosive freshman and watching Batts run the ball.
"Juvon is a (heck of a) running back. I don't mind at all. He has way more speed than I do," Walter said. "A lot of the stuff he's able to do just comes naturally and it's amazing that he can do some of this stuff as a freshman. I get my carries. I'm very happy."
And whatever frustration Walter does feel, he has an outlet for it on defense. He's been a three-year starter for the Seals, beginning at nose guard as a sophomore and the last two seasons as a linebacker. He has 60 tackles this season.
"I like the hitting on defense," Walter said. "My goal is always to make as many tackles as I can."
Walter also hopes this isn't his last season of football, another reason he's given up racing for the time being. He's being looked at by Susquehanna University and several other area small colleges.
"Susquehanna would be cool because it's close, but I'm looking at all my opportunities," Walter said. "I think it would be really cool to play football in college."
But after college, look out area race car drivers, Walter still plans to join the family business.
"I'll get back into racing I'm sure once my football career is over," Walter said.