Brad Childers has a growing appreciation of his Franklin High School football team, even with the Wildcats’ injury list also growing.
“Great kids, great coaches and a great tradition. That keeps us going,” said Childers, whose squad is 7-1 overall and 3-1 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division. “That’s been it. That’s what we keep focusing on.
“It’s a privilege to be their coach and lead them through this adversity. Adversity reveals their character, and these kids have shown great, great class. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids and coaches.
“It would be so easy to quit. In my 23 years of being around football coaching, I’ve seen teams quit. These kids aren’t quitting. They’re not going to quit. These are Franklin kids.”
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Franklin has nearly a dozen players out because they’re hurt. Quarterback Braden White and halfback Ryan Montgomery have been the most notable casualties, but the injury bug has bitten both sides of the ball.
And yet the Wildcats are still winning. They’re ranked eighth in the Division III state poll and second in the Region 12 Harbin computer ratings.
“Unfortunately, this is a tough, physical game. When guys go down, it’s our job and obligation as coaches to get the next guys ready,” Childers said. “It’s truly been — and it’s not just a cliche — next man up. We’ve got 10 guys out, but we’ve got 10 more kids who have stepped up. That’s the great thing about it.
“We’re on our fourth ACL surgery this season … it’s just unbelievable. But we’ve truly focused on us and blocking better and tackling better and communicating and being great teammates. And they’ve all bought in.”
Franklin doesn’t have an easy road at the end of the regular season, traveling to Oakwood (4-4, 2-2) on Friday and hosting Brookville (6-2, 3-1) next Thursday.
From there, the Wildcats are hoping to make their fifth postseason appearance in the last seven years.
And the Lumberjacks? They still have an outside shot at a Division IV, Region 16 playoff berth.
“What we talk about with our guys is one at a time,” Oakwood coach Butch Snider said. “The most important game is the next game we play. Our guys buy into that and believe in that. We don’t look ahead.”
Senior quarterback Brian Erbe gives the Lumberjacks a shot to beat anybody they play with his ability to fling the ball around. He is 154 of 240 for 2,545 yards and 25 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Erbe threw for a stunning 452 yards and five TDs against Franklin last year, but the Wildcats took a 66-48 victory.
“He’s one of those lead-by-example type of guys,” Snider said. “We’ve struggled running the ball for whatever reason, so teams try to pin their ears back and come after him. But he’s pretty good about getting the ball out. He’s got a good sense and a feel for the game.”
The Lumberjacks are scoring 30.1 points per game, but they’re also giving up an average of 35.9.
Snider said the return of senior linebacker Freeman Whitaker this week should help against the Wildcats, who are putting up 34.4 points a contest.
“I know Franklin’s had a few guys get injured. That’s kind of the boat we’re in too,” Snider said. “Believe it or not, during the course of the year, we lost five two-way starters to injury at one point. We’ve got a few back, and Whitaker is basically the quarterback of our defense. That’s a positive for us.”
Sophomore Braden Woods has shined as the Wildcats’ quarterback in White’s absence. Woods is 73 of 110 for 912 yards and nine touchdowns with only one interception.
Franklin has lost its top three running backs. Sophomore Nate Passmore (14 carries, 54 yards) is the lead guy for now, though Childers said he’s looking for one back to separate himself.
“We’ve got more experience in the passing game right now, but there’s still a lot of young guys out there,” Childers said. “There’s times when we have eight guys on offense that are coming back next year, and we’re still able to produce results and win football games.”