By Chuck Tidmore
Sports Information Assistant
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Huntingdon College welcomed the University of Toledo football program to campus on Wednesday as the Rockets went over final preparations before facing Appalachian State in Saturday's Raycom Media Camellia Bowl at Cramton Bowl.
Associate athletic trainer and head football trainer John Walters was one member of the Toledo staff who was especially eager to arrive in Montgomery. Walters once served as the head athletic trainer for the Hawks in the 2007-08 seasons.
Walters said that being back has been a nice time for reflection.
"Being able to come to Montgomery is icing on the cake for me," Walters said. "It really didn't hit me until we pulled up in the busses on Wednesday, but it has been nice to see guys like (Huntingdon football coach) Mike Turk, (associate athletic director) Eric Levanda and (Director of Strength and Conditioning) Charlie Goodyear.
"Knowing that this is where I started after graduate school and being able to look back from where I started to where I am at now, it's been a nice time of reflection," Walters said. "Being back at Huntingdon reminds me that I didn't get to where I am on my own. I know coach Turk had to be patient with me when I started, but he did so much for me and I felt his support every day when I worked at Huntingdon."
Before Walters was at Huntingdon, he spent time as an intern at Auburn University and as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech. Following Huntingdon, he returned to Auburn as an assistant and was with the Tigers in 2010 for their national championship season. He was hired at Toledo in 2011 and said that his time at Huntingdon set himself apart from other applicants.
"When I applied for the job at Toledo, I already had experience being a head athletic trainer," Walters said. "It's one of the things that separated me from other applicants. At Huntingdon, I covered every sport and it really helped me see the big picture of everything that goes with collegiate athletics.
"Huntingdon gave me a good foundation to go to work at Auburn and not just see the trees, but see the whole forest. It has made the day-to-day operations of just working with football here at Toledo that much easier. Without my time at Huntingdon, I wouldn't have been able to go be successful at Auburn and Toledo."
Walters said the past few days have brought back good memories of people and his time at Huntingdon. He mentioned one weekend when the football team played in southern Illinois.
"We left Montgomery on a Thursday and drove halfway before arriving on Friday and doing a walk-through," Walters said. "We played Saturday and drove straight home after the game and returned home at 6 a.m. While we were unloading, we remembered that there was a J.V. game at 1 p.m. on Sunday. So instead of putting everything away, we just set it all up for the game to save an hour or two later.
"Everyone always had a lot of responsibilities and with the limited staff at a Division III school, everyone would come together and make sure the job got done."
One thing Walters has noticed is how much the facilities have changed. Since Walters' time, visitor's seating has been expanded at Samford Stadium, turf was added in 2011 and lights were added in the fall of 2013.
"It has been awesome to see the changes that have been made at Huntingdon. I remember when they would bring in extra bleachers for the visitor side for bigger football games," Walters said. "I saw that Huntingdon has a new athletic training room and more offices. To see Huntingdon expanding is awesome."
The Raycom Media Camellia Bowl will air on ESPN at 4:30 p.m. Appalachian State returns to Montgomery for the second straight year. The Mountaineers defeated Ohio last year 31-29 while making their bowl debut. Toledo is making their sixth bowl appearance in the last seven seasons. This is the first meeting between the two schools.