Big Walnut football coach Rob Page had his hands full last season.
Not only was he trying to implement a ton of new changes — it was his first year in Sunbury, after all — but he was trying to do it in the middle of a global pandemic.
Well, fast forward to the end of the season and things went pretty well considering the circumstances. Big Walnut finished 5-5 and picked up a playoff win.
Page said it all boiled down to the kids and the community.
“Kids are resilient,” he said, “and on a positive note in regard to the pandemic, it brought our players together. It truly reminded people of how important community and sports are. Big Walnut is a tight community and the support for our team, even during an unusual year, was remarkable and humbling.”
Now, though, with a normal offseason complete with in-person meetings and workouts, expectations are a bit higher for Page and company.
“Our offseason has been amazing, and our players have worked extremely hard to maximize their success this year,” Page said. “We have depth at our skill positions and look to grow in year two.”
Sophomore Jake Neir and junior Nicky Pentello are battling to replace outgoing QB Jagger Barnett — a three-year starter who completed 92 of his 155 passes for 966 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season.
Nate Severs and Garrett Stover, both sophomores, are looking to do the same at running back, where they’ll have some serious shoes to fill. Last year, BW senior back Caden Williams — a first-team all-league and all-district selection — ran for 1,535 yards and 16 touchdowns on 263 carries.
Roy Roberto and Brad Kildoo will make plays at tight end, Page said; Grant Coulson, Teddy Dancer and Cam Gladden will anchor the receiving corps; and Aiden Hernandez, Grant Farris, Wyatt Lenz, Justin Strickland and Matt VonAlmen will lead the charge up front on the offensive line.
On the other side of the ball, Wes Skinner and Ethan Clawson enter as the Eagles’ top two edge rushers while Christian Takach, Ryan Bogoni and Colin Shirkey will add depth as interior linemen. Lawrence O’Malley, Mitch Ansel and Lucas Tindell will make plays at linebacker; Stover, Pentello and Jamison Welker will see time at safety; and Dom Salazer, Lane Pritchard and Mike Conrad will patrol the parameter as the team’s top corners.
Overall, Big Walnut is pretty young. Page said they’ll look to offset that youth with hunger and technique.
“We are going to be a young team, so experience is something we will not have, but those guys are hungry and ready to compete,” he said. “As always, we need to stay healthy. Also, the game of football is won in the trenches by great blocking and tackling, which we need to do both well to have success.”
The Golden Eagles open the season with back-to-back home games against St. Charles (Aug. 20) and Zanesville (Aug. 27). They travel to Columbus Beechcroft the following week before opening OCC-Capital play against host Delaware Hayes Sept. 10.
Big Walnut gets Westerville South and Franklin Heights at home the following two weeks before taking on the host Wolves — a team it blanked 31-0 last fall — Oct. 1 at Worthington Kilbourne.
The Eagles will look for a little payback Oct. 8 and 15 against visiting Westerville North and Dublin Scioto, respectively — teams they lost to by a combined four points during the regular season a year ago — before capping things off at Canal Winchester Oct. 22.
All games are slated for a 7 p.m. start.
“Our league is well-coached and will have a lot of parity this season,” Page said. “Many teams are returning their top players, which is going to be fun to compete against … we look forward for the opportunity.”