Defending state champ Big Walnut faces uphill battle this season


Sunbury Big Walnut Golden Eagles

Sunbury Big Walnut was the toast of Division III last year hoisting the state championship trophy in December with a 17-10 win over Newark Licking Valley.

But with the departure of 20 seniors, Big Walnut will be a new-look football team this season personnel-wise.


LB/OL Will Studlien (6-3, 225, Sr.), QB/LB Jordan DeWitt (5-11, 180, Sr.), QB/DB Johnny Cannell (6-3, 175, Jr.), DL/TE Colton Griffis (6-6, 305, Sr.), OL/DL Kalven Behr (5-11, 230, Sr.), SE/DB Nick Heiden (6-0, 175, Sr.), QB/LB Jacob Deltedesco (5-10, 165, Sr.), OL/DL Logan Mead (5-10, 205, Sr.), OL/DL Jon Smith (6-2, 225, Sr.), OL/LB Nate Scarbury (6-2, 225, Sr.).


2007 Record: 14-1; Division III State Champions

Sunbury Big Walnut was the toast of Division III last year hoisting the state championship trophy in December with a 17-10 win over Newark Licking Valley.

The Golden Eagles boast a flock of seniors with experience, including nine returning starters on defense, to soar to the top of the Ohio high school football world.

“It was a wonderful season last year and we’ve actually tried to put it behind us and move forward,” head coach Scott Wetzel said. “We graduated a great senior class that had tremendous leadership. I think that is probably the number one thing – they had talent but they had just great leadership.”

With the departure of 20 seniors, Big Walnut will be a new-look football team this season personnel-wise.

“We’re trying to slowly fill those shoes with some players,” Wetzel said. We’ve got a lot of new faces and a lot of positions up for grabs so it’s a lot different than last year.

“Last year we went in knowing that we only had one or two positions that we had to fill. This year we have a lot of open spots which makes for a lot competition and a lot of good football.”

Most notably is the departure of three-year starting quarterback Ethan Wetzel, who has moved on to play safety at Ashland University. Wetzel passed for 1,234 yards, ran for another 1,127 and accounted for 29 touchdowns and was a first-team All-Ohio selection on defense last year.

Also gone is backup signal caller Garrett Koehler, who saw significant playing time for Big Walnut.

So, the quarterback position is a main area of concern coming into the 2008 campaign.

“We’re looking at our quarterbacks that were at the third and fourth team level last year,” said Wetzel.

DeWitt and Cannell are the front runners to fill the position.

“They’re both going to work hard and they are both going to be leaders and step up,” Wetzel said about his quarterbacks. “It is probably just going to be a matter of which one performs the best is the one that is going to pay for us.”

Another blow Big Walnut is going to have to cope with is the loss of Division III defensive player of the year Will Studlien to injury in the off-season. He suffered a partial ACL tear in his left knee playing rugby in the spring.

Studlien tallied 160 tackles last season including eight for a loss and has scholarship offers to Illinois, Cincinnati and Akron.

“We might not have him some time during the season but you never know. So, right now we’re going to have to play some games without him,” Wetzel said. “With that leadership role he has, other seniors are going to have to step up and take that spot and fill those shoes.”

Big Walnut should be in good shape in the trenches with Griffis, Smith, Behr, Mead and Scarbury all returning to the line. Griffis has a scholarship offer to Marshall on the table.

Heiden is a veteran in the secondary and caught an interception in the title game to seal the win for the Golden Eagles.

“We have some guys that are going to be first year starters,” said Wetzel. “We had the luxury of experience this year and this year we’re going to have some pups out there and some kids whose eyes are going to be pretty big. But we need to get through that, settle in and play some good football.”

Despite the little experience Big Walnut returns this year, Wetzel is encouraged by the off-season the players waiting in the wings have had.

“I think right now in the weight room we have some seniors stepping up and taking leadership roles but I think we have to have some guys do that come two-a-days and football camp. That remains to be seen how that is going to be done,” he said.

“Our hard work attitude hasn’t changed. We still have kids that want to come in and work hard. We’ve always been known as a blue collar team and I don’t think that is going to change any. That hard work and relentless attitude is still there and we’re still excited about that.”

As returning state champs, Wetzel knows he is going to get every opponent’s best effort this season.

“Being the returning state champ, everyone is probably going to get out their red crayon and circle our game as the one to beat,” he said. “I think our kids are going to have to realize that every week we are going to see our opponent’s best. We’re going to see them play their best football of the season against us.”

And with the realignment of the Ohio Capital Conference, Big Walnut faces a challenging schedule. The Golden Eagles open against Westerville Central, Chillicothe and Lewis Center Olentangy.

“My concern is if we can survive those three games going into the league schedule,” Wetzel said.

Pataskala Watkins Memorial and New Albany appear to be a couple of the top teams in the conference heading into the season.

“Watkins returns quite a few guys and (Mark Mueller) runs a fantastic program at New Albany. They’re going to be pretty good,” Wetzel said.

Ontario Bishop Tonnos is on the docket in Week 6 with the new Hilliard high school not opening until the 2009-10 school year.

“We had to find a one-year, game six, which is not easy to do,” Wetzel explained. “I don’t know a whole lot about (Tonnos) yet. I guess they are one of the better teams from Canada. They were very excited to play us. So, if we are the returning state champs and they are excited to play us, they must be pretty good.”

But for now, Wetzel is focused on the season-opener.

“Our goal is the same as it was last year and that is to win the first game,” he said. “I think the one thing about high school football, which is great in my opinion, is every year there is a new team, a new attitude and a new chemistry that you have. We don’t have the luxury of a college team as far as recruiting – we get what we have in the school.

“Sometimes that is bad when you win a championship and you lose all those guys but it is exciting because we have new team coming in and I am looking forward to coaching them.”

And with the first state championship in school history in the trophy case, Wetzel is hoping to build on that success while putting it behind at the same time.

“It was a very awesome experience and it is something I will never forget. For some reason everyone thought I was going to retire after last year,” Wetzel joked.

“There is a lot more to football than winning state championships. It was pretty neat thing but coaching kids and having that new team every year and having kids come back that have moved one to college – that is what it is all about.”


Aug. 22 Westerville Central
Aug. 29 Chillicothe
Sept. 5 @ Lewis Center Olentangy
Sept. 12 Pataskala Watkins Memorial
Sept. 19 @ Olentangy Orange
Sept. 26 Ontario Bishop Tonnos Catholic
Oct. 3 Delaware Hayes
Oct. 10 @ New Albany
Oct. 17 @ Mount Vernon
Oct. 24 Columbus Franklin Heights

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