When a team finishes a season 2-8, there are two obvious approaches it can take heading into the following campaign. It can have a sour attitude and dwell on the negatives, or it can focus on refining details to improve the whole.
Head coach Joe Weaver’s Big Walnut Golden Eagles have taken the latter route. The objective for his team this fall is to improve throughout the season.
“Hopefully we’re gonna get better each week,” Weaver said. “That’s kind of the goal that we set forth as a team … to improve daily. And the kids have bought into that and the kids do a great job of not only talking about that, but representing that, bringing the right frame of mind every day at practice and focus on something to get better at. Taking care of the little things to get better at the whole picture.”
One player that can help the team progress each game plays maybe the most crucial position in football. Junior quarterback John Sutton, who completed 31 passes on 94 attempts and had four interceptions across nine games in 2015, will see plenty of game action this season.
He will have familiar faces lining up alongside him in the backfield in senior running back Evan Garcia and junior running back David Hunt. Garcia found the end zone 12 times and ran for 1,011 yards on 196 carries last season — all of which were team highs. Hunt was the team’s second leading rusher with 100 attempts for 520 yards and eight touchdowns.
As for who Sutton will be throwing to, wide receivers Chase Adams, Josh Kem, Cody Priestas and Owen Ramsey, and senior tight ends Tyler Ronk and Kobe Swackhammer will be his targets. Adams had eight receptions for 57 yards as a sophomore last year.
Defensively, Big Walnut will have to replace its leading tackler from last year in Joey Schooley, who had 87 total tackles, seven of them for loss, and two interceptions. A couple players to look for who can help fill that void are senior defensive back Philip Roberto and senior linebacker Swackhammer. Roberto had 24 total tackles and a fumble recovery in 2015 while Swackhammer had 69 total tackles, five of which were tackles for loss.
Aside from its individual players, Big Walnut’s schedule will allow Weaver to gauge week by week just how much his team has improved. He believes every game is an opportunity to see where his team stands. The high level of competition begins in the first week and does not let up for the remainder of the season.
“Our non-conference schedule is very difficult,” Weaver said. “We have Mansfield Senior, which is very athletic and very physical Week 1. So that will be a good measuring stick there. Week 2 we play (Worthington) Kilbourne, and with them they’re very fundamental, very well coached, very disciplined and a heck of a football team. Week 3 we see St. Charles, which is just a traditional powerhouse team.
“Once you get in the (Ohio Capital Conference), the OCC is as good a conference if not the best in the state of Ohio when it comes to players and teams and how well coached they are. As far as a measuring stick, every week is a measuring stick.”
The OCC realigned its teams and created a fifth division over the summer. Joining Big Walnut, Franklin Heights and New Albany in the revamped Capital Division are Canal Winchester, Groveport Madison and Newark. Delaware Hayes, Mount Vernon, Olentangy Orange, Olentangy and Kilbourne are now members of other divisions in the OCC.
“It’s very competitive,” Weaver said of the OCC realignment. “It is a division that is chock-full of talent. Every week you’re going to see great athletes and pretty good football players.”
A factor that sent the Golden Eagles to a 2-8 record last year was undoubtedly injuries. Thanks to those injuries, though, Big Walnut will be fielding players with some playing time under their belts when the season kicks off Friday night.
“Last year was difficult in regards … we got bit by the injury bug a little bit,” Weaver said. “When that happens you have to have some new guys step up. And we had some guys step up in the roles and they fulfilled the roles nicely. That’s the thing moving into this year is we do have some guys — because of the injuries that kind of hit us last year — we have a lot of guys that have some experience.”