Its easy to understand why a rivalry between the Big Walnut and Westerville Central high school football teams has developed. Not only have the teams faced each other every season since Central opened in 2003, but their schools are separated by less than nine miles.

Its easy to understand why a rivalry between the Big Walnut and Westerville Central high school football teams has developed. Not only have the teams faced each other every season since Central opened in 2003, but their schools are separated by less than nine miles.

The series has been one-sided, however, as Big Walnut won the first seven contests. The last five years, the Golden Eagles have walked away from the annual contest, which has been dubbed the "Bird Bowl," with the WarEagle Trophy.

"Its a bird with its wings spread out. It looks like its attacking," Big Walnut senior offensive and defensive lineman Matt Brown said of the trophy. "Even though were undefeated against them, its a big rivalry because we play for a trophy."

Big Walnut hopes to remain unbeaten against Central when it plays host to the Warhawks on Friday in the opener for both teams. The Golden Eagles finished 6-4 last season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2005. The Warhawks went 5-5 a year ago.

"They supposedly have a very good team this year," Brown said. "Hopefully, having home-field advantage will help us out."

Central coach John Magistro expects his team to improve on its record from a year ago, largely because of its speed. Big Walnut coach Joe Weaver knows his 3-4 defense, led by linebackers Jacob Walaszek, Garrett Dandrea and Josiah Myers and linemen Brown and Jason Griffith, will be challenged.

"Their speed guys can flat-out fly," Weaver said.

Spencer Allen begins his first season as Centrals starting quarterback. His primary target most likely will be 6-foot-6, 240-pound tight end Nick Vannett, who has verbally committed to play at Ohio State. Last season, Vannett caught 20 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Jalen Jones is among the Warhawks wide receivers, and Miles Fisher, John Howard and Davon Reed are expected to split time in the backfield. Howard was slowed during the preseason by a hamstring injury but was expected to be ready for the opener, Magistro said.

Big Walnut lost all 11 starters on its pro-set offense last season to graduation. Tyler Beam is expected to be the starting quarterback, with Nick Brown, Lucas Garcia and Joey Johnson carrying the bulk of the load at running back.

Magistro doesnt expect to see many changes to the Golden Eagles offense despite the fact that they dont have much experience.

"Offensively, they're pretty much well-disciplined," Magistro said. "They really don't do a lot of fancy stuff. They don't try to razzle-dazzle you. They just come after you with their best and they say, Stop us. Over the years they've been able to succeed with it."

Key players on Centrals 4-3 defense include Vannett at end, linebackers Cody Kondas and Maurice McGee and backs Fisher, Jones and Reed. McGee led the Warhawks with 52 tackles last season.

"Big Walnut is a perennial power," Magistro said. "They do things the right way. They have tough kids. They know what it takes to win a football game. They've been winning over there for a long time. They have a (Division III) state championship (in 2007) under their belt. No matter how good or bad they are, they're going to play four quarters of football."

Magistro believes his teams performance against Big Walnut could be very telling.

"That first game sometimes makes or breaks your season," he said.