Walton’s rising stars set to fill big shoes

Walton Raiders Football/ Bush Enos Photography

“Take away Tyren Jones and I don’t see Walton making the playoffs.”

The uncertainly surrounding the Jones-less Raiders has littered discussion boards with this belief heading into the 2013 season. However, the Raiders will be a strong contender in 2013, even with Jones in Tuscaloosa. Last season, Walton replaced nine defensive starters from their 14-1 team in 2011. This year, the Raiders must replace Jones and the whole offense from that 2011 team. However, speed and the defensive personnel needed to return Walton to prominence is there.

“I think the thing we are going to have to work on is building some depth along the defensive line, but I think this is going to be a very good defensive team,” admitted head coach Rocky Hidalgo.

As for the offense, there will be a changing of the guard in the backfield. As a junior, Jones was the Class AAAAAA Offensive Player of the Year, and was off to a record-breaking pace to start his senior campaign. In 2012, Jones surpassed 300 yards rushing against Brookwood and McEachern in the first two games. Injuries to the offensive line made it harder for Jones and the offense, plus the All-State back was battling through a broken wrist and an array of injuries himself. Finally, in week 9 against Etowah, a sprained MCL sidelined Jones for the season’s final two games.

Quarterback Parker McLeod suffered a severe ankle sprain that benched him for nearly half the season. McLeod was forced to come back perhaps too soon from injury for the final two games of the season, because backup quarterback Price Wilson was out with an injured knee. In the Raiders’ opening drive against Roswell, McLeod sprained his other ankle. The bootleg passes and play-action rollouts that the Alabama commit had mastered during the 2011 season could not be called due to the immobilizing injuries. The result was a 28-24 loss to Roswell and a 20-17 double-overtime loss to Parkview in the first round of the playoffs.

With the page turned and the 2013 season fast approaching, highly-recruited DJ Smith is the new focus. The defensive back will be a three-year starter, and can spark plays in all phases of the game. When Jones sprained his knee, the Raiders were staring at a 10-7 deficit at the intermission. The trio of SEC bound seniors, Jones (Bama), McLeod (Bama) and Brandon Klubanow (UGA), were all on the bench, along with the majority of the 13 starters that were injured at some point during the season.

Sophomore offensive linemen were shuffled around to accommodate the vacancies and Smith was going to have to carry the Raiders in the second half offensively. Walton did not go to the locker room and instead went to the practice field for a walk-thru. Smith and the makeshift line got the message and pulled off the 21-16 comeback. In the game, Smith rushed for two scores and received another. More impressive, was that Smith was battling a torn meniscus during the latter part of the season. Smith had a full recovery this offseason and will be full strength heading into his senior season.

Walton managed to find enough chemistry between the inexperienced backfield and the young offensive line in a 20-minute halftime last season, so expect this work in progress to improve as the 2013 season unfolds.

“We are young on the offensive line and we are young at tailback so it is going to take a while for that part of our team to gel,” said Hidalgo. “We are going to have to rely on our quarterback and our wide receivers, and I think you are going to see us throw the ball a little bit more than what most people have.”

Sophomore running back Karekin Brooks will share carries with Breyon Thomas. This will allow weapons like Smith and rising sophomore cornerback Chad Clay to step in at receiver, rather than the backfield. Fullback Henry Rowling returns with the most playing experience out of any returning offensive player. Rowling will be a huge factor in shaping a consistent run game early in the season. At tight end is junior Davis Pidgeon, who will stand as a big target for Wilson. With the weapons on this team spread out from the backfield to the boundaries, this could be a dynamic Walton offense. Wilson was 3-1 last season when he filled in for McLeod, and with an entire offseason to prepare for the starting role, Wilson looks poised for a breakout season.

The Raiders have tremendous team speed, and the defense in 2013 could be the fastest unit Walton has ever had. LB Dreyon Williams was unblockable in spring practice. While the offense tried to go through the play script, the coaches had to take Williams out of the drill so they could see the play develop.

Zach Williams missed last season with an ACL injury and according to Hidalgo will be an “animal” on defense. Smith and Taquar Stewart will move from the starting cornerbacks to safety this year. Walton will have one of the best safety nets in the state with this duo. Linebacker Imani Parker was injured in the first game of the season last year and returns as another standout.

The schedule will challenge the Raiders in 2013 and Hidalgo recognizes the depth of Region 5-AAAAAA.

“I think the region is going to be very very tough,” said Hidalgo. “I think Wheeler is going to challenge for the region championship. …I think Roswell is going to be very much improved, and they have about 16 or 17 kids back from last year’s team. …Etowah and Coach Dave Svehla has done a great job. … You are going to see a lot of teams that were down last year are going to improve. From what I hear Cherokee has had a great offseason and they are going to be big, strong and physical. Each week you are going to have to show up.”

The Raiders open up with Peachtree Ridge in the Corky Kell Classic. The Lions are coming off a disappointing 4-6 season and have a roster loaded with plamakers. In the second week of the season, Walton takes on Hillgrove in the East vs. West Showdown at McEachern. This will be the first time that these Cobb schools have faced eachother outside of preseason play.


Class AAAAAA Preseason Top 10

1. Norcross

2. Colquitt County

3. North Gwinnett

4. McEachern

5. Lowndes

6. North Cobb

7. Mill Creek

8. Walton

9. Lovejoy

10. Peachtree Ridge



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