When Curtis Crager was plucked from Dublin Coffman and hired to be the next head coach of the Big Walnut football team over the offseason, he didn’t make the trip across town empty-handed.
He brought a thing or two with him — some plays, schemes, coordinators and program-building ideas he picked up while with the super-successful Shamrocks.
When he saw what the Golden Eagles had going for them, though — a super-successful group in their own right over the last two years — he didn’t want to change much because, well, not much was broken.
With first-team all-state guys on both sides of the ball, a quarterback with multiple years of starting experience and a program with a combined 22 wins over the course of the last two seasons, you don’t want to change too much.
“We always talk about players, formations and plays,” Crager said. “It starts with the players you have. From there, you put them in the best formations possible and run plays to get those players the ball.
“We, obviously, want to establish the run and hang our hat on running the football, but it always starts with that simple philosophy: players, formations, plays.”
When you have a guy like first-team all-state running back Nate Severs in the backfield, how can you not be a run-first offense? Severs has racked up 4,333 rushing yards (5,284 total yards when including receiving and returning kickoffs) and 75 total touchdowns in the last two years alone.
“What a great kid,” Crager said of Severs, who is committed to play his college ball at Air Force. “He’s humble and hardworking … and when some of your better guys are the hardest-working guys on the team, that’s really what you want.
“All of the seniors kinda fit that bill.”
Quarterback Jake Nier is back behind center after starting each of the last two seasons and guys like Matt Von Almen, Sawyer Russell and Alex Harpster will be tasked with blocking for him and Severs.
“Collectively, they’re physical,” Crager said of the line. “They take pride in blocking for a very good back … and Nate is so humble, when he deflects praise onto those guys they just play even harder for him.”
Everyone talks about Severs and Nier, and for good reason, but Crager said he has some young playmakers on the outside he’s excited about, too — guys like sophomore tight end Owen Pollock, sophomore receiver Brody Hatfield and junior receivers Ben Ronk and Carter Dancer.
“We’re always going to establish the run, but having the ability to throw the ball with Jake and utilize some of the athleticism we have is nice,” Crager said. “Once we establish the run, it usually opens things up. That’s what we’re kind of hoping for, to be able to physically wear teams down and, when they start loading up the box, we can get some other guys the ball in space.”
Defensively, the Golden Eagles will be young. Fortunately, they have all-everything linebacker Garrett Stover back and ready to roll for his senior season. Stover, an Ohio State commit, will be joined by guys like Payton Abrams, Eli Helton, Jace Murray and Jax Lawrence behind the line.
That line, meanwhile, features returners Kohen Lyles, Trey Legg and Aiden Ballard, while Kyle Kline, Aidan West, Evan Imertreijs and Austin Kawasaki will patrol the secondary.
“We’re going to be green in a lot of areas,” Crager said of the defensive unit. “I think a key is growing up fast and staying off the field. If the offense can extend drives and keep the defense off the field until we kinda get our legs under us, I think that’ll be helpful. We just want to make sure we’re fundamentally sound in everything we do.”
Big Walnut opens the season Friday against host Bishop Hartley before talking on Upper Arlington and Franklin to smooth out the non-league schedule. The Golden Eagles open OCC-Capital play Sept. 8 at Delaware Hayes.
(10-3, 5-2 OCC-Capital)
Aug. 19 — vs. Bishop Hartley, W, 35-7
Aug. 26 — @ Zanesville, W, 42-7
Sept. 2 — vs. Beechcroft, W, 59-24
Sept. 9 — vs. Delaware Hayes, W, 34-14
Sept. 16 — @ Westerville South, L, 31-24
Sept. 23 — @ Franklin Heights, W, 62-8
Sept. 30 — vs. Worthington Kilbourne, W, 35-12
Oct. 7 — @ Westerville North, W, 27-17
Oct. 14 — @ Dublin Scioto, W, 41-7
Oct. 21 — vs. Canal Winchester, L, 21-14
Oct. 28 — vs. Green, W, 35-22 (OHSAA Division II playoffs)
Nov. 4 — @ Watkins Memorial, W, 25-21 (OHSAA Division II playoffs)
Nov. 11 — @ Massillon Washington, L, 42-21 (OHSAA Division II playoffs)
Aug. 18 — @ Bishop Hartley, 7 p.m.
Aug. 25 — vs. Upper Arlington, 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 — @ Franklin, 7 p.m.
Sept. 8 — @ Delaware Hayes, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 — vs. Westerville South, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 — vs. Franklin Heights, 7 p.m.
Sept. 29 — @ Worthington Kilbourne, 7 p.m.
Oct. 6 — vs. Westerville North, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 — vs. Dublin Scioto, 7 p.m.
Oct. 20 — @ Canal Winchester, 7 p.m.