Walton, North Paulding have strong showings at Brent Key / Corky Kell + Dave Hunter 7-on-7

Excitement filled the air all over the Georgia Tech football facilities during the last two weeks as the Brent Key/Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic 7-on-7 Tournament brought some of the top talent in the state together over the course of four days.

Walton and North Paulding, who are both coming off winning nine-plus games a season ago, have made their way back to Georgia Tech to compete in the 7-on-7 as a building block of each program’s summer practice routine.

The Walton Raiders participated on the third day of the tournament and like last year, brought two teams to the tournament.

Walton No. 1 featured what many would expect to be its varsity team next season as Walton No. 2 featured more underclassmen from their junior varsity roster. The tournament was a good learning experience for all teams involved, including the younger players participating against some of the top talent in the state.

Walton No. 1 had its offense in full swing, going 2-2 in pool play but falling to North Atlanta 27-21 in round one of elimination bracket play. This team displayed what Walton fans will see on the football field starting in August: A new offense following the departure of Tyler Jones and a defense that picked up right where they left off.

Going into his senior year Gilstrap will become a first-time starting quarterback for the Raiders. He looked great with the deep passes and checkdowns to his receivers. He found rising junior wide receivers Christian Ward and Max McRaney for multiple touchdowns throughout the day.

“We’re a young team, but I see good things,” Ward said. “I feel like we can go all the way and win the ‘ship. It’s going to be competitive, but I feel like we can win.”

Gilstrap will have to utilize all his weapons in the receiving corps to keep the offensive production at a prominent level.

Making interceptions and displaying good pass coverage which led to some pass deflections, the Walton No. 1 defense picked up right where they left off last season. Players such as Malikai Speed made plays in pass coverage throughout the day including a pass deflection in game two of pool play against Norland (FL).

The Walton Raiders will be playing in Class 6A-Region 5 in their eighth season under head coach Daniel Brunner after being in Class 7A-Region 5 the past two seasons.

Though they went winless at the tournament, Walton No. 2 kept it close with most of its opponents falling to North Oconee 32-28 in the first round of the elimination bracket play.

Rising sophomore quarterback CJ Jordan utilized his weapons throughout the day for Walton No. 2. He threw touchdowns to Noriega Thompson, Om Patel, and more. Jordan used his arm strength and took multiple deep shots throughout the day. As the second-string quarterback on the varsity team, working behind senior quarterback Kaeden Gilstrap will help him learn the offense more efficiently as the season goes on.

The defense for Walton No. 2 had a solid day, featuring good coverage and pass deflections on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive back Alex Ji deflected a pass on an extra point in game three of pool play against Marietta. Defensive back Asim Alexander displayed great coverage on an extra point in the final game of pool play against Norland (FL), where in that same game, junior linebacker Jack Klim broke up a pass to disrupt the Seminoles offense.

Walton No. 2 put on a valiant performance in the tournament, but now they have plenty to work on before the Fall. The Raiders will begin their 2024 season at the Corky Kell + Dave Hunter Classic at Mercedes-Benz Stadium against the Brookwood Broncos on August 17, with Kickoff scheduled for 10 a.m.

The North Paulding Wolfpack participated in Day 4 of the tournament and showed their new team after most of last year’s players graduated.

The offense will look to remain at a high-level despite the receivers and running backs that have moved on from the program.

In the running back group last season, Calvin Scott and Jayden Clayton combined for 15 touchdowns and 1,491 rushing yards. Josiah Sanders and Xavier Walker look to keep the standard high for the Wolfpack running backs as they are both entering their senior seasons with the program.

In the receiving corps, tight end Ajax Anderson and wide receiver Javarius George combined for 12 touchdowns and 1,494 receiving yards. Dube Enongene is a returning wide receiver for the Wolfpack who caught 26 passes, collected 397 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in his junior year for the Wolfpack. This could be a big season for Enongene and for receivers Cedric Stewart and Bennett Morrison as they will have plenty of opportunities to make plays for the Wolfpack.

Going into their junior seasons Oghenetega Umudi and Jackson Cottingim will take the roles of Anderson and Brayden Autenrieth in the tight end room.

Tyler Niehr enters his junior year with lofty expectations. Last season he was 168-for-312 passing for 2,734 yards and 24 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. It will be interesting to see how he does with new receivers and running backs this season.

In the secondary, defensive backs Dillon Harr, Alex Carlisle, Carrington Byrd, and Matthias Johnson played a significant role for North Paulding. They all combined for 205 tackles (136 solo), six interceptions, and 34 pass deflections. This season will be big for defensive backs Landon O’Reilly, Marcus Roach, Jahmari Carter, and D’Vyne Cowan-Bazley, as they all enter their final season with North Paulding.

In the linebacker group, Danny Pitts, Ethan Maddox, and Austin Kowanski were always making big plays on the field as the trio combined for 271 tackles (171 solo), 15.5 sacks, two interceptions, and 14 pass deflections last season.

Rising senior Rowan Sheffield and rising junior Derek Steward must step-up this season and be leaders in the linebacker group as they are both entering leadership positions as upperclassmen.

North Paulding was at the Brock Indoor Facility for pool play where they went 2-2 on the day. Its wins included 26-25 over Blessed Trinity and 27-0 over West Forsyth. They lost 30-22 against Norcross and 34-30 against Newnan. The Wolfpack fell 47-30 to Mays in the first round of the playoffs at the Rose Bowl practice field.

North Paulding had a successful regular season last year where the Wolfpack went 9-3 and finished second in Class 7A-Region 3 in its fourth season under head coach Don Stark. For next season, the Wolfpack have been realigned to Class 6A-Region 5.

North Paulding will kick-off their 2024 campaign against Parkview at The Big Orange Jungle on August 16. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 PM.

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