It’s another season of high expectations for Franklin High School’s football team.
The Wildcats have been to the Division III playoffs and totaled 19 victories the last two years, and they expect to be strong again in 2018.
“The expectation around here is just that — go win and make ’em better young men and do things right,” said fifth-year coach Brad Childers, whose squad tied for first with defending champion Valley View in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division preseason coaches poll.
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“We haven’t talked a lot about our opponents. I’ve learned that we’re better when we focus on what we do and stop worrying about what everyone else does. That’s kind of the mentality we’ve taken on with our staff.”
Franklin has nearly 80 players in grades 9-12 after going through the summer with close to 90. The program has almost a dozen transfers and open-enrollment students.
“We’re a small community and football is important here, and each and every year, we have new kids come in,” Childers said. “I think that’s a testament to expectations of Wildcat football and what people want to be a part of.”
Senior inside linebacker Matt Centers (6-1, 205) leads the returnees for a Wildcat squad that was riddled with major injuries last season. He’s set to do some running as a tailback in the spread offense and is also the punter.
Centers is on the verge of becoming the program’s all-time leading tackler. He’s got 341 tackles and is taking aim at former linebacker Nate Woods (2010-12), who’s No. 1 with 397.
“Matt Centers has done a great job of stepping up and leading our football team. He’s a high-energy kid,” Childers said. “He’s a Wildcat through and through.”
Junior Braden Woods (6-2, 185) returns at quarterback after throwing for 1,467 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. He’s been in a preseason battle with senior Jake Bowermaster (6-0, 195), but Childers said Woods will start the season as the No. 1 QB.
“Jake Bowermaster is a valuable part of this football team,” the FHS coach said. “He and I had a really good talk, and he was like, ‘Coach, I’ll accept my role and do the best I can.’ He’s a very special kid, he’s God-driven, and I think good things are going to happen for him.”
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Franklin doesn’t return much rushing experience. Woods (66 carries, 229 yards) and Centers (21 carries, 109 yards) are the leaders.
Centers, junior Gage Johnson (5-10, 175) and sophomore Charlie Webber (5-9, 180) look to be the key figures in a by-committee ground game. Johnson was a starting outside linebacker in 2017.
“It’s going to be a down-by-down thing who we feel good with,” Childers said.
Senior Drew Gescuk (6-3, 175) and junior Ryan Russell (6-1, 170) are back as wideouts, as is senior John Harris (6-3, 230) at tight end. Seniors Champ Howard (5-7, 155), Cooper Daniels (5-8, 150) and Zach Bowermaster (6-1, 195) are quality slot receivers.
Returning on the offensive line are senior tackle Austin Mattox (6-5, 325), junior guard Noah Stephens (5-10, 255) and senior guard Kyle Russell (5-7, 255).
Junior tackle Nick Back (6-5, 300) and sophomore center Cajun Allen (6-3, 305) are also slated to start. Included in the O-line mix are seniors Dustin Stewart (5-10, 205) and Charlie Newton (5-11, 210), along with sophomore Caleb Barnhart (6-1, 235).
“It’s as big an offensive line as I can remember around here,” Childers said.
The Wildcats don’t have a base defense and will consistently use different fronts.
Seniors David Figliola (5-11, 305) and Cameron Craft (6-0, 210) are back on the D-line at tackle and end, respectively. Senior Zarek Welch (5-11, 220), sophomore Izak Proctor (6-0, 200), Harris and Stephens will play roles up front.
Franklin has plenty of linebacking experience with Centers and senior Sam Faulkner (6-1, 205). Junior Jared Kremer (5-11, 200) will also contribute there.
Junior Logan Willis (5-8, 165) is a returning safety. Senior Tristan Hatfield (6-0, 175) is another safety, and juniors Aiden Kinser (5-8, 140) and Zach Johnson (5-10, 175) are the cornerbacks.
“I’m excited about our defense,” Childers said. “I really like the way Logan Willis has been playing in the secondary. He doesn’t say much. He just makes plays.”
Mike Schneider is the new offensive coordinator, and he’s well-known for his passing-game expertise.
“It’s his 43rd year of football, and he’s brought another level of coaching for our kids and our staff,” Childers said. “He does a great job coaching our quarterbacks. You can see it.”
Centers, Figliola, Harris and Zack Bowermaster are the Wildcats’ captains. Daniels and freshman Isaiah Bales are vying to replace record-setting place-kicker Matt Schneider.
Asked about the team’s overall speed, Childers replied, “We’re not the slowest team I’ve ever coached, but we’re not the fastest one either. Sometimes if you’re coached well and you understand the game and you use your knowledge, that’ll put you in the right spot to make plays. That’s where I feel like we are.”
Franklin’s last losing season came in 2010. The Wildcats’ final scrimmage will be at home against Fenwick on Friday at 7 p.m.
Coach: Brad Childers, fifth season (29-14)
OHSAA designation: Division III, Region 12
Playoff history: 5-11 in 11 appearances (1985, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1993, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2016, 2017)
2017 record: 8-3 overall, 4-2 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division (second, tied)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — Madison, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — at Edgewood, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — at Xenia, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — Monroe, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — at Bellbrook, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — Preble Shawnee, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — Valley View, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — at Eaton, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19 — at Brookville, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — Oakwood, 7 p.m.