The Big Walnut High School football team underwent a coaching change in the offseason, but the Golden Eagles don't expect to see any major changes in terms of the offensive and defensive schemes.

The Big Walnut High School football team underwent a coaching change in the offseason, but the Golden Eagles don't expect to see any major changes in terms of the offensive and defensive schemes.

First-year coach Joe Weaver sees no reason to make drastic changes. His predecessor, Scott Wetzel, compiled a 100-27 record in 11 seasons and guided Big Walnut to the Division III state championship -- the program's first -- in 2007.

Also during Wetzel's tenure, the Golden Eagles never had a losing season, qualified for the playoffs six times and won six OCC-Capital Division titles. Wetzel resigned last December.

"We're pretty much doing the same things," said Weaver, whose team will continue to employ a pro-set offense and 3-4 defense. "We're not implementing a new system. We're rolling on with what coach Wetzel did."

Weaver was an assistant on Wetzel's staff nine of the last 10 seasons, including the last three as defensive coordinator.

"I think (the transition has) been pretty smooth," he said. "Coach Wetzel had been delegating more duties to me in recent years. He allowed me to do more things, and that has helped with my preparation."

Big Walnut, which opens Friday at Westerville Central, finished 11-3 overall last season and captured its third consecutive OCC-Capital title, going 6-0 to finish ahead of Delaware (5-1), New Albany (4-2), Franklin Heights (2-4), Watkins Memorial (2-4), Olentangy Orange (1-5) and Mount Vernon (1-5).

The Golden Eagles, seeded seventh in Region 10, opened the playoffs with an 18-17 win over second-seeded Clyde. They then defeated sixth-seeded St. Marys Memorial 17-12 in a regional semifinal and top-seeded Avon 24-15 in the regional final before losing to eventual state champion Aurora 20-14 in a state semifinal.

Big Walnut returns five starters on offense in senior quarterback Johnny Cannell (6-foot-5, 190 pounds), senior running back Cody Leitner (5-10, 160), senior fullback Buddy Carrel (5-8, 170), senior wide receiver Bret Myers (6-0, 155) and senior lineman Pete Isbell (6-3, 220).

Cannell made his first start in a 17-14 loss to Olentangy in week three and held the starting job for the remainder of the season, completing 72 of 131 passes for 1,073 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Carrel rushed for a team-high 661 yards on 141 yards (4.7 yards per carry) and scored seven touchdowns and was honorable mention all-league. Leitner ran for 636 yards on 110 carries (5.8 yards per carry) and also scored seven touchdowns.

"The more experience you get back at the skilled positions, the better," Weaver said.

Others expected to be key contributors on offense include senior fullback Seth Dunn (5-8, 180), senior wide receiver Jason Whitner, senior running back Jordan Whitner, senior tight end Drew Curts (6-2, 205), senior linemen Zach Mathews (6-0, 210), DeAngelo Rankin (6-3, 240) and Skyler Schofner (6-7, 276) and junior lineman Matt Brown (6-2, 210).

Schofner, a transfer from Johnstown, is ranked 37th among senior tackles in the country by Rivals.com. According to the Web site, he already has received 15 Division I scholarship offers, including six from Big Ten Conference schools -- Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

"He's still learning the system," Weaver said, "but he's right on pace with everybody else."

Schofner likely will start at left tackle, where he will help protect Cannell's blind side.

"He's a nice kid and a hard worker," Cannell said. "But I have confidence in all of my linemen."

Five starters return on defense in senior cornerback Brad Beltram (5-9, 155), senior free safety Jon Norman (5-10, 160), senior lineman Steve Hobart (6-1, 230), junior linebacker Jacob Walaszek (6-1, 215) and Dunn at linebacker. Beltram and Walaszek both made second-team all-league last year.

Others expected to be key contributors on defense include Brown and Curts on the line, senior linebacker Zach Shryock (6-0, 215) and Jason Whitner and Jordan Whitner in the secondary.

"The kids are working hard every day (in practice) and getting after it," Weaver said. "They're pushing each other. There's a lot of competition."

A.J. Fleak, a junior, returns as kicker and Norman returns as punter. Last season, Fleak was second-team all-district and all-league and Norman was second-team all-district and first-team all-league.

Big Walnut, which has made the playoffs each of the last three seasons, has moved up to Division II and is in Region 7. Among the other area teams in the region are Beechcroft, Brookhaven, Canal Winchester, Dublin Jerome, Dublin Scioto, New Albany, Olentangy, Orange, St. Charles and Watkins Memorial.

"It's definitely a new challenge," Weaver said. "(The region) is full of solid, talented teams, teams that are traditionally sound and competitive. It's a very, very competitive region and division. It's going to be tough."

"I think it's good for us," Cannell said. "I think we'll be fine. Most of the teams we play are in Division I or 2 anyway."

Because the South-Western City Schools' 8.3-mill levy failed Aug. 4, Franklin Heights is not fielding a team this year. Big Walnut filled the void in its schedule with a road game against Pickerington North on Oct. 30. The contest is a non-league game.

"We're definitely looking to pick up where we left off (last season)," Cannell said. "We're anxious for the season to get started."