Thanks to persistent shoulder injuries, Ziyan Sears spent Friday nights the past two years as a spectator during Olentangy High School football games, but the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior defensive lineman quickly has become a team leader to the point that when he talks, teammates listen.

The big play he made during the Braves’ home game against Dublin Coffman on Sept. 15 also might prove to be one of the biggest of the season.

Sears’ 48-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter gave Olentangy the lead for good in a 31-14 upset of the Shamrocks, who had outscored their first three opponents 132-0. Just as importantly, he helped pace a win that allowed the Braves to atone for an ugly 31-7 loss at Reynoldsburg on Sept. 8, improve to 3-1 and get them on the right foot heading into a game Friday, Sept. 22, at Marysville.

“I told the team before the game to just go out and give their best for 48 minutes and we would win,” said Sears, who scored off of a fumble by Coffman quarterback Marcus Ernst. “We came out late against Reynoldsburg and we couldn’t do that again.”

Although Sears has just 14 tackles, well behind the team-high 40 of linebacker Justin Stewart, he leads the Braves in sacks with two and is fourth in tackles for loss behind Jacob Slade’s six and five each from Zach Slade and Stewart.

Another emerging player is junior defensive back DeAnte Ables, who was relegated to junior varsity duty last year. He had two interceptions against Coffman and has all three of the defense’s interceptions this year.

The win was a needed shot in the arm after one of the most lopsided losses of coach Mark Solis’ tenure at Olentangy, which is in its fifth season, but the Braves have shown a tendency to come back from such adversity. Olentangy has lost four games by 24 or more points under Solis and rebounded with a win three times, the only exception being a 48-13 loss to Cincinnati La Salle in a Division II state semifinal in 2014.

“We challenged them a lot in practice (last week) and made things pretty uncomfortable, but the bottom line was we just got back to having fun,” defensive coordinator Dan Harris said. “The guys flew around and hit people. When you have a (loss) like we did, you can’t wait to get back out there the next Friday and hit somebody. DeAnte is a great example of that. He told me, ‘I just love the challenge.’ “

Linebacker Xavier Harrison went so far as to call last week’s practices ‘fun.’

“We went full helmets and shoulder pads (Sept. 11) and I don’t know what it did, but it lit a spark in the team,” Harrison said. “It was the best week of practice since I’ve been here. We got back to fundamentals and, by the time we got to the game, we were hungry to show how much we’ve improved. Nobody’s going to lay down for us. We have to earn everything.”

Marysville improved to 2-2 with a 23-14 win over winless Grove City on Sept. 15.

In their first season under coach Brent Johnson, the Monarchs are off to their best start since 2014, when they were 3-1 through four games but finished 4-6. Johnson was Marysville’s defensive coordinator the past five seasons under former coach Morgan Cotter.

Quarterback Walker Heard leads the Monarchs’ wing-T offense that also features running back Tommy Rush – a University of Minnesota recruit as a linebacker – and receivers Sam Essig and Owen Meffley.

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave