Through the eyes of his coach and teammates, USC freshman water polo player Jon Walters is remembered as a warrior who fought for his team in the pool and a loving, spirited and warmhearted friend on land.
Just a month before his tragic heart attack, Walters played an integral role on the USC squad that defeated University of Pacific, 12-11 in overtime, to give the program its sixth consecutive national title.
“We would not have won a championship without [Walters],” USC head water polo coach Jovan Vavic said.
Little did anyone know, the national championship game would be his last game as a USC player.
The Trojan Family lost the 19-year-old Walters on Jan. 8, but his memory and legacy as an NCAA champion and an ideal teammate lives on in and out of the water.
“Jon was one of the most universally loved people I have ever met,” redshirt sophomore Aleck Ryner said. “He was a champion in the pool and an even better person out of it. I’m going to miss him every day for the rest of my life.”
Before coming to USC, Walters was a superstar at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., where he won two CIF titles, was the 2012 CIF Player of the Year and was a member of the U.S Junior National Team.
Austin Fletcher, a junior at USC and former high school teammate of Walters remembered him as a fantastic teammate with a contagious winning attitude and a knack for inspiring their team, which would go on to win a CIF championship.
“His spirit brought our team together since he would not take anything less than winning, and our team adopted that [mentality] and wouldn’t have won a title without him,” Fletcher said. “There’s not a person that knew him that didn’t love him.”
Vavic still remembers the first time he saw Walters play while recruiting him in high school. Walters immediately made an impression as a towering, yet quick and physical player.
“He was a man above the boys and was unguardable, like Shaquille O’Neal,” Vavic said. “It was beautiful to watch him play.”
His coach reminisced about how Walters was an ideal player — one that every coach would want to have on his team.
“He was a warrior, fun loving, always smiling, selfless — and all of his teammates really loved him,” Vavic said.
Vavic asserted that a big reason why Walters was so beloved by his teammates and enjoyed playing with him was because he was a fighter in the pool.
“He would fight for his teammates until he had nothing left in him,” Vavic said.
His teammates reinforced how special it was to be able to play alongside Jon and consider him a friend.
“Jon wasn’t your average teammate,” senior two-meter Connor Virjee said. “He had the heart of a Trojan. He was always the warrior we needed in the water and the gentle giant out of the water. Anyone who was able to talk to Jon for even a brief moment could witness how unique he was and knew Jon was destined for bigger and better things. I know that he will forever live on in our hearts and can never leave our thoughts.”
With his spirited persona, Walters was able to touch every person he met in a positive way, according to senior Jeremy Davie.
“I know that my life will be changed forever after knowing [Walters] and I am a better person for it,” Davie said.
Senior utility Mace Rapsey, said he would miss Walters’ passionate attitude while always putting his teammates first.
“Jon was the nicest, most caring and best teammate anyone could ever ask for,” Rapsey said. “I will miss him greatly but will always remember Jon as a warrior, legend, and a great mate.”
Over the course of this past season, Walters battled an elbow injury that sidelined him for about six weeks, according to Vavic.
Motivated by a fierce determination to obtain his first national championship, Walters returned from his injury and came up huge for the Trojans in the conference tournament that would eventually send them to the NCAA Tournament. Walters finished his freshman season with 17 goals from the two-meter position.
“He stepped up big when we really needed him,” Vavic said.
Apparent from the kind words of his current and former teammates and coach, Jon Walters truly embodied what it meant to be a Trojan.
The Trojan family lost one of its greatest warriors and is deeply saddened by his passing.
Walters is survived by his parents, Jacque and Bill, his three brothers, Mike, Matt, and James and his sister Ali.
A memorial service to honor Walters will take place on Jan. 18 at Mariners Church of Irvine at 11 a.m.