By ERIC CLINE
Big Walnut football had not seen a season like its 2013 campaign in 17 years, and it’s certain it doesn’t want to see another season like it for another 17 years or so.
The Golden Eagles finished the 2013 season with a record of 2-8, marking the team’s first losing season since 1996 when they went 2-8 under coach Rex Sponhaltz — and that was three coaches ago. The record snapped a string of 16 consecutive seasons posting a record of .500 or better.
Head coach Joe Weaver returns for his sixth season having put up a record of 33-22 in his previous five with two playoff trips included, but last season proved to be a struggle. The Golden Eagles lost their first eight games, including three shutouts against St. Charles (34-0), Hayes (21-0) and Worthington Kilbourne (31-0) as well as an opening-night loss to Mansfield Senior (28-7).
But things weren’t all bad in Sunbury. The Golden Eagles won their final two games, shutting out Orange 17-0 at Pioneer Field in Week 9 and throttling Franklin Heights 48-14 in the home finale in Week 10. In three of their other losses, the Golden Eagles missed victory by seven points or less, including their Week 8 game against New Albany where the visiting Eagles won by just a field goal.
Big Walnut took hits via graduation, mainly on the defensive side. The team lost eight of its top 10 tacklers from the year before, including the top three, linebackers Alec Eisnnicher, Austin Crow and Austin Carr.
The main loss from the offense was wide receiver Chase Laveer, who led the team in receiving with 47 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns, but the offense still has plenty of punch returning for the 2013 year.
First and foremost on that score is senior quarterback Jordan Wall, who completed better than 55 percent of his passes a season ago while helping out the running game when he could. Wall was 92 of 167 through the air for 1,118 yards, throwing six touchdowns and seven interceptions; and carried 72 times for 111 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
Along with Wall, the Golden Eagles also return their four top rushers. Senior Brayden Shepherd topped the crowded rushing attack with 314 yards on the ground on 58 carries with three touchdowns. Senior Blake Marioth was next with 310 yards rushing on 63 carries with another three scores, and senior Christian Johnson rushed 86 times for 286 yards and two touchdowns, adding 11 pass receptions for 52 yards.
The Golden Eagles also return three of their top four receivers, with senior Joe Muench, second on the team in receptions last year after catching 24 passes for 453 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. Junior Issac Lucas was fourth in receptions last year, catching seven balls for 69 yards with one touchdown.
On the defensive side, most of the returning talent can be found in the linebacking corps and the defensive backfield. Lucas, who will line up as one safety, returns as the leading returning tackler. Lucas was fourth overall last season with 63 total tackles and 16 solo tackles while leading the team with five interceptions.
Senior Jacob Lucas also returns as a safety after making 27 tackles last year with six solos. Senior Conner Fry is back at cornerback, having made 16 tackles and seven solos while picking off one pass last year.
Among those back at linebacker are senior Darrin Taylor, who had 31 tackles including three solo takedowns in 2013, and Shepherd, who had 15 tackles, six of them solos. On the defensive line, senior Will Smith is the team’s best returning defender, having made 22 tackles a season ago.