When all-state running back Tyren Jones, who is closing in on a second straight 2,000 yard rushing season, injured his knee against Etowah last Friday, it was the 31st injury – broken bones, serious sprains, etc. — suffered by a Walton football player (grades 9-12) this season. And it was the fourth injury to a player who will be suiting up for an SEC school next season.
Jones, has committed to Alabama, joined future Crimson Tide teammate, quarterback Parker McLeod on the sideline, in addition to offensive linemen Brandon Kublanow (Georgia) and Jake Boynton (Kentucky).
But while many teams may have found this loss of Division I talent too much to overcome, all the Raiders have done is continue to win.
Overcoming the adversity shows how resilient Walton continues to be. Hidalgo said he has no idea how his team has gone 7-2 and secured the No. 2 seed from Region 5AAAAAA, but because of it he can’t wait to get the field for practice everyday – and it’s not just to get the updated medical report.
“I’m having a blast,” he said. “I’m having a lot of fun coaching these kids. And I’m not just excited about this year.”
That’s because Hidalgo already knows what a lot of Raiders fans will soon discover. Juniors like D.J. Smith, who took over for Jones at tailback against Etowah and is currently Walton’s leading receiver (22 rec. 343 yards, 4 TD) and best cornerback, and quarterback Price Wilson (46-78 598 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT) can make big plays on offense and put points on the scoreboard. And on defense, linebacker Dreyon Williams (38 tackles, 4 sacks) and defensive end Kyle Whitaker (40 tackles, 3.5 sacks) have stepped up their games and helped turn a unit that was a question mark at the beginning of the season – allowing 36 points a game the through three games – into a team strength – allowing 13.5 points a game over the last six.
“The defense has been winning games for us,” Hidalgo said. “We’re not the same team we were on offense going into Week 1. Right now we have four sophomores on the offensive line.
“I’m as proud of this group as much as I was of the team we took to the state finals last year. We’ve started as many as seven sophomores at one time. That’s something we’ve never had to do before. But if I was a Walton fan I’d be excited for the future.”
Of course that doesn’t mean fans shouldn’t be excited about this year, too. With securing the No. 2 seed, Walton will be able to rest players still dealing with bumps and bruises, or reacclimatize players into game action that have been out for an extended amount of time.
Jones had an MRI on Saturday that came back negative. He could be ready for the opening round of the playoffs on Nov. 16. Kublanow could play this Friday against Roswell, but will likely be held out as a precaution, and McLeod will be back on the field for the first time in six weeks against the Hornets, so he’s ready when the No. 3 seed from Region 7AAAAAA (likely South Gwinnett) comes to Raider Valley in two weeks.
As odd as it may sound, all the injuries could prove to be a win-win situation for Walton. Not only have the backups gotten the experience, but the starters may have gotten some much needed rest and will be fresh for the playoffs. And the last time I checked, a healthy Tyren Jones running behind a solid offensive line, and a stingy defense, was a pretty good recipe for success.
Twelve Cobb County teams qualified for postseason play a year ago. If the county is to duplicate that number again this year, there is a lot of work that needs to be done. If the season ended today, based on the current region standings, only 10 teams would qualify for the playoffs.
Here’s a look at what those playoff matchups might look like. If there are teams tied for a playoff spot, then the seeds are a projection:
No. 1 McEachern vs. Colquitt County. An Indians’ victory would bring either Newnan or Alcovy to Cantrell Stadium in Round 2. West Forsyth, Collins Hill, Walton and South Gwinnett complete McEachern’s part of the bracket.
No. 2 North Cobb vs. Valdosta. A Warriors’ win means they would either travel to Langston Hughes or host Rockdale County. Lassiter, Brookwood, Johns Creek and Mill Creek complete North Cobb’s quarter of the bracket.
No. 3 Marietta at Lowndes. A Blue Devils win would either send them to Lovejoy or host Tri-Cities in Round 2. Parkview, Woodstock, North Gwinnett and Alpharetta complete Marietta’s portion of the bracket.
No. 4 Hillgrove at Camden County. If the Hawks take down the No. 1 team in the state, like they did a few years ago, they would travel to either Newton or East Coweta for the second round. Norcross, Chattahoochee, Grayson and Milton complete Hillgrove’s quarter of the bracket.
No. 1 Lassiter vs. Brookwood. A Trojans victory would bring either Johns Creek or Mill Creek to “The Frank” for Round 2.
No. 2 Walton vs. South Gwinnett. A win would either send the Raiders to West Forsyth or have them host Collins Hill in Round 2.
No. 2 Allatoona vs. Heritage-Conyers. A Buccaneers’ means they would either travel to M.L. King or host Sequoyah in Round 2. Whitewater, Bainbridge, Effingham County and Jones County complete Allatoona’s part of the bracket.
No. 1 Kell vs. Stephenson. A Longhorns’ win brings either Gainesville or Rome to “The Stockyard” for Round 2. Thomas County Central, Drew, Warner Robins and Richmond Hill complete Kell’s portion of the bracket.
No. 3 Pope at Tucker. A Greyhounds’ victory means they travel to East Paulding or host Clarke Central in Round 2. Ware County, Lakeside-Evans, Union Grove and Lee County complete Pope’s quarter of the bracket.
No. 7 Walker vs. Brookstone. With Class A splitting into two state brackets – one each for public and private schools. As of the last power matrix, which will determine the playoff teams for each bracket in Class A, the Wolverines would face Brookstone.
Walker will get an automatic spot in the playoffs if they win the Region 6A title. If not they will have to be one of the eight highest non-automatic qualifing teams in the matrix.