North Gwinnett @ Walton - Walton's head coach, Daniel Brunner, prior to the Raiders' game at home with North Gwinnett on Friday, September 14, 2018. SPECIAL / Cecil Copeland

Walton decided not to play a spring game against another team this year.

The Raiders needed to figure out their own identity first.

The team’s three biggest playmakers — receivers Dominick Blaylock and Kendall Alford and quarterback Austin Kirksey — are all departing to Division I football programs.

Walton now has to figure out who the next wave of talent will be. Coach Daniel Brunner called it a puzzle.

“The focus is on us, trying to figure out who we’re going to be,” Brunner said.

So instead of a spring game, the Raiders opted to play an intrasquad scrimmage. The assistant coaches were split up, and they drafted their players onto two separate teams. Brunner stayed out of it, acting as the “commissioner” instead.

Brunner said it was a fun and productive way to try to figure out the team’s identity. The process is ongoing, but he said the team’s strength will be on the offensive and defensive lines.

Tal Brill, Jayden Smith and Walker Hurst were three linemen who especially impressed Brunner.

Other the linemen, Walton will have its hands full in trying to replace the departing seniors. Blaylock (Georgia) had 58 receptions for 1,047 yards, while Alford (Western Carolina) had 59 receptions for 1,071 yards in 2018. Kirksey (Nevada) threw for 14 touchdowns and 2,207 yards.

“We had a lot of really great playmakers that made the coaches look good,” Brunner said.

Even with that playmaking talent, Walton was eliminated in the second round of the state playoffs each of the last two seasons. The Raiders went 10-2 with a 4-1 Region 4AAAAAAA record before they were eliminated by Hillgrove in the second round in 2018.

Brunner believes Walton will win a state championship at some point, but he did not perceive the second-round exits as anything less than satisfactory.

“I’m not ashamed one bit the way we went out the past two years,” Brunner said.

Walton finished the spring with about 85 players on the varsity roster. Some of those players could not practice because they were members of the baseball team or the state champion lacrosse team.

Of the 85 players, only 20 are seniors. While it may not be a big class, Brunner admired the rising seniors for both their talent and their academic excellence.

“I’m fired up for them to lead the charge,” Brunner said.


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