The Walton Raiders ran off 14 straight wins one year ago, reaching the Georgia Dome for the Class AAAAA championship game before falling to Grayson. The Raiders' offense was paced by the running of Tyren Jones and star quarterback Parker McLeod, but it was senior Zack Blaylock who stood out above the others for his ability to jump over to the offense from his spot at safety and excel as a wide receiver. Blaylock caught a simple pass play near his own goal line and rumbled 95 yards for a clinching score in the Class AAAAA quarterfinals to help the Raiders defeat Dacula. He then iced the game with a late interception, his 11th of the year. Blaylock managed 383 yards on his interceptions, including five returned for scores.
Still, it was his offense that raised his profile last season. He hauled in 24 receptions in 12 games at receiver while pacing the Raiders in touchdown receptions. He forced opponents to empty out the box so that Jones could gash defenses on the inside.
With Blaylock now at Kentucky, who will step in for Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo? Perhaps another member of the secondary.
Rising junior D.J. Smith started out the 2011 season as a running back on the Walton JV team, serving as the heir apparent to Jones in the backfield. Smith would regularly rush for more than 150 yards on the JV squad before a promotion during the year to the varsity's defensive secondary. He excelled to the point of starting by the end of the season, and recruiters have taken notice as well. Nebraska offered Smith on May 3 and South Carolina quickly offered the same day. Georgia, Florida, Michigan State and Vanderbilt have since extended offers to the player who cannot sign until February 2014.
This summer, Smith has shown some offensive skills, both at the Atlanta Quarterback and Wide Receiver camp at Walton as well as at the St. Pius X passing camp. If Smith keeps up his strong effort and continues to grow, McLeod and Hidalgo may have found their next breakout wide receiver from the Raiders' defensive secondary, just like last year.