The Big Walnut football team was really, really good last fall.
It rolled through the OCC-Capital Division en route to an undefeated league slate, outright conference championship and top seed in the final Division II, Region 7 OHSAA computer rankings.
It won each of its first two playoff games, both at home, and didn’t lose a single time until mid-November.
That one time, though — a 38-0 shutout at the hands of Massillon Washington in a regional semifinal — was what stuck with the Golden Eagles over the offseason.
They saw up close and personal what it takes to compete deep into the postseason … and worked all offseason to get closer to where they ultimately want to be.
“Our guys have worked really hard this offseason in the weight room,” BW coach Rob Page said. “Our strength coach, Anthony Glass, has helped us not only get bigger and stronger, but our team speed has grown leaps and bounds with his help. Our goal each season is to maximize our abilities and be the best team we are capable of.”
That’s not good news for Big Walnut’s opponents, who likely aren’t looking forward to having to deal with a bigger, faster and stronger Nate Severs, Jake Nier and Nicky Pentello.
All three were vital to the Eagles’ success on the offensive side of the ball, and Page doesn’t expect that to change as all three are back this year.
Severs, Big Walnut’s bruising running back, was virtually unstoppable from start to finish a year ago, rushing for more than 2,300 yards (7.4 yards per attempt) and 34 touchdowns as a sophomore. He finished with 38 TDs overall — good enough to earn him first-team all-state and OCC Player of the Year honors.
Nier and Pentello were super productive as well. Nier, who started behind center, threw for 1,800 yards and 24 touchdowns while Pentello was his top target, collecting 34 grabs for 542 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pentello was a second-team all-state selection.
Other key returners include offensive tackle Grant Conklin, wide receiver Grant Coulson, and Cam Gladden, who will handle the kicking and punting duties in addition to adding another solid option for Nier at receiver.
Nate Snead (wide receiver), Brad Kildoo (tight end) and Teddy Dancer (wide receiver and defensive back) are a trio of new impact players Page said should make some noise as well.
The cupboard is also pretty full on the other side of the ball with studs like Garrett Stover and Ethan Clawson back in the fold. Stover, a four-star recruit, had 92 tackles on his way to earning first-team all-state honors last fall. Clawson, meanwhile, had 62 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and six sacks en route to second-team all-league recognition.
Other returning standouts on defense included linemen Wes Skinner and Tyson Fountain. Newcomers Page said include lineman Kohan Lyles and defensive backs Mike Conrad, Kyle Kline and Dancer.
Page said his stable of skill-position players is an obvious strength. The Eagles are still looking to finalize the starting offensive line, though. Defensively, they should be strong up front, but are still looking to solidify things in the secondary.
Big Walnut gets things started Friday, Aug. 19 against visiting and always-competitive Bishop Hartley. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. in Sunbury.
Zanesville and Beechcroft smooth out the non-league portion of the schedule while the Eagles will open their defense of the OCC-Capital crown with a home game against Delaware Hayes Sept. 9.
“Every year the OCC will be tough and wide open,” Page said. “And opening with Hartley … they’ll be fast and very physical as always.”