Rob Page expects to put plenty of miles on his vehicle in the coming months.
The new Big Walnut football coach, pending school board approval later this month, already has hit the ground running, getting to know players, interviewing potential assistant coaches and introducing himself to members of the community.
More importantly, the former Cincinnati Turpin offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach has home visits planned with every senior player and their parents.
"Make no mistake about it, I'm going to coach them hard, but I think kids can accept hard coaching if they know you care about them," Page said. "The best way to demonstrate you care is spending time with them and building relationships, and that's what I plan to do."
Page, 37, replaces Joe Weaver, who resigned after going 55-60 in 11 seasons. The Golden Eagles finished 4-6 overall and 2-3 in the OCC-Capital Division last fall and haven't had a winning season since 2014, when they went 7-3.
One of the seniors next season will be quarterback Jagger Barnett, who completed 97 of 195 passes for 1,168 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions and rushed for 311 yards and four touchdowns on 104 carries last fall.
"I went up and introduced myself, and he was straightforward in telling me what he wanted to do," Barnett said. "It was a good first impression, for sure. I like how he wants us to succeed both on and off the field. The home visits just show how much he cares about that."
Page, who spent the past two seasons at Turpin, learned about the Big Walnut job from a good friend, Canal Winchester football coach Josh Stratton.
The job opening brought 150 inquiries, nearly 60 applicants and 22 first-round interviews, athletics director Brian Shelton said. Four finalists met with a hiring committee of school officials and at least one community member.
"The goal from the beginning was to hire the best coach possible," Shelton said. "We weren't sure if that was going to be internal or external. We were very pleased by not only the number of applicants, but also their quality and depth."
Page, however, emerged as the best candidate.
"One of the common themes we began to hear was that no coach is going to be more prepared than Rob Page, and we saw that," Shelton said. "The other was that when Rob is in a leadership role, everyone under him gets better."
Last season, Turpin's offense led the Eastern Cincinnati Conference in scoring, rushing and passing for the first time in school history. The Spartans finished 10-1, losing 27-13 to DeSales in the first round of the Division II, Region 8 playoffs.
Prior to coaching at Turpin, Page was the head coach for two seasons at Reading, where he was named 2017 Cincinnati Enquirer Division V Coach of the Year. He also has coaching experience at the collegiate level, including Eastern Michigan, Mercyhurst and Wittenberg, and he played tight end at Wittenberg.
"I've always been a person who kind of has personnel dictate scheme," Page said. "But I do see us playing with a tight end, with multiple formations, forcing teams to defend the field both horizontally and vertically. But at the end of the day, you must block people to be successful, and that's what we did so well at Turpin."
Beginning next season, Big Walnut will compete in an eight-team OCC division with Canal Winchester, Delaware, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights, Westerville North, Westerville South and Worthington Kilbourne.
The Golden Eagles, who won the Division III state championship in 2007 under current Delaware coach Scott Wetzel, last reached the playoffs in 2011 and shared a league title in New Albany in 2017.
"I think it's a place that can win, it's a place that wants to win and it's a place that has won," Page said.
Female wrestlers make history
Senior Aliya Martin (137 pounds) and junior Cali Lang (106) competed in the inaugural Pioneer Classic girls wrestling tournament on Jan. 4 at Olentangy Orange.
Martin went 3-0, winning the title match by pinning Beechcroft's Amara Allen in under a minute. Her performance earned her the tournament's Most Valuable Wrestler honors, voted by coaches.
Lang went 2-1 and finished second, losing 9-4 to Bellefontaine's Chelsea Horsely in the championship match.
With only two competitors, the Golden Eagles placed 10th of 24 teams.
Girls basketball team rolls in pair of wins
After facing two of the area's better teams in Watterson and Hilliard Bradley in the Watterson Christmas Classic on Dec. 27 and 28, the girls basketball team held its next two opponents to a combined 19 points.
Big Walnut cruised to a 47-6 win over Franklin Heights on Jan. 3 and a 62-13 victory over Westerville Central on Jan. 7. Abby Facemyer led nine scorers against the Falcons with 15 points, while Abby Brown had 17 points and Avery Schone scored 11 against the Warhawks.
The Golden Eagles were 8-2 overall and 3-1 in the OCC-Capital before playing Groveport on Jan. 10.
Big Walnut defeated Bradley 38-28 on Dec. 27 but lost to Watterson 47-32 the next day.
Below are the coming schedules for the Big Walnut boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swimming & diving and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 17 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester. The Golden Eagles defeated the Indians 59-53 on Dec. 6.
Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Fairfield Union
*Jan. 17 -- At Canal Winchester. The Golden Eagles defeated the Indians 43-35 on Dec. 6.
Jan. 18 -- Home vs. Mansfield Madison
*Jan. 13 -- Olentangy at Delaware Lanes
*Jan. 15 -- Marysville at Capri Lanes
Jan. 18 -- Central District Preview at Palace Lanes
Jan. 18 -- Wolfpack Invitational at Worthington Kilbourne
SWIMMING & DIVING
Jan. 17 -- Gahanna at Gahanna YMCA
*Jan. 16 -- Home vs. Canal Winchester
Jan. 18 -- Ron Thomas Sr. Invitational at Jonathan Alder