Hidalgo made that claim despite the loss of a pair of Southeastern Conference-quality quality defensive backs in Zack and Daron Blaylock, who will be playing at Kentucky this fall. The twin brothers combined for 171 tackles and 13 interceptions in 2011.
Other key losses include defensive linemen Harrison Davis and Koty Allen, linebackers Justin Brooks, Jim Hogue and Dedric Sundby and defensive back Dakota Richardson.
“We lost a lot of really good players,” Hidalgo said. “You don’t lose those guys without there being an impact.
“It may take us a little while to get our feet wet, but I expect us to be a really good defense.”
But can this unit really approach what the Raiders had in 2011?
Over its 15 games, Walton allowed only 173 points — an average of 11.5 per game. The Raiders held six opponents to seven points or fewer, and only twice did they allow a team to score more than two touchdowns.
Despite the changes, Hidalgo is not allowing the bar that was set last year to drop very far.
“Our goal is to get back to the state championship and play better,” he said. “If we’re not working to win a state championship, then what are we doing?”
Hidalgo is putting a lot of stock in Walton’s new front seven.
Starter Blake Montz, who had 39 tackles and 6½ sacks is back to anchor the defensive line, along with Sebastian Covelo (17 tackles, two sacks), who was a key member of the line’s rotation last season.
Hidalgo also singled out Kyle Whitaker, a newcomer the coach said could be the next big-time Raider lineman, and he said he was impressed with the play of new inside linebackers Ridge Gibson and Dreyon Williams.
“I really feel good about our defensive line and linebacking corps,” he said.
Colby Billings and Justice Bailey will have the unenviable task of trying to replace the Blaylock brothers in the secondary. They will get help from veteran D.J. Smith, who had 43 tackles and two interceptions last year.
While it’s expected that the new secondary will be tested early and often once the season starts, Hidalgo said he’s confident the defense will perform well.
“By the time we get to Week 5 or 6, we’re going to be really, really good,” Hidalgo said. “I think we have a chance to be as good as we were last year.”
Aside from the natural loss of players to graduation, the Walton defense suffered one other significant loss when defensive coordinator Chuck Goddard left to become the new head coach at East Paulding.
Chris Stewart, the former assistant head coach and defensive backs coach at Sprayberry, came in to take Goddard’s place.