History was made last season by Franklin High School’s football team. And more might be on the way in 2017.
The Wildcats went 11-1 and set a single-season school record for victories last year, winning the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division title and advancing to the second round of the Division III playoffs.
“We’re a talented group. People know that, we know that,” fourth-year Franklin coach Brad Childers said. “But our focus is building the entire football team from top to bottom, in all three phases. We’re in the process of building that true sense of camaraderie in the hopes that everybody doesn’t have to do a whole lot for us to be successful.
“The kids understand what it takes to win here at Franklin High School, and they understand the expectation of them. We had a historical season last year, but they also know that’s over, and now the bar has been set even higher.”
Senior tailback Ryan Montgomery and senior quarterback Braden White are back from a powerful spread offense that tallied 44 points per game in 2016.
Montgomery (5-11, 193) rushed for 1,935 yards and 34 touchdowns on 182 carries last year. He also caught 36 balls for 518 yards and two TDs, completed 39 of 54 passes for 521 yards and four scores, and returned 16 kickoffs for 460 yards and a TD.
He has 15 to 20 Division I college offers that include schools like Michigan State, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky and Cincinnati.
“Will Ryan have the amount of yards he had last year? I couldn’t tell you,” Childers said. “I can tell you this: If he does or if he doesn’t, it doesn’t matter to him as long as we win. That’s all he wants to do. That’s another reason he’s a special kid.”
White (6-3, 220) had a monster year as a junior as well. He converted 139 of 200 passes for 2,055 yards, 26 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Senior receivers Jared Kinzer (6-2, 180) and Austin Gilbert (5-10, 145) are also back, and senior Clay Winstead (5-10, 175) is a versatile halfback with an array of skills.
“There’s only one ball, but we’ve got some kids that when they touch it, they can go the distance,” Childers said. “We’re excited about having those options.”
He likes his offensive line, even with the loss of Wyatt Hillard and Kevin Banks to graduation. Senior center Nathaneel Rudd (6-0, 225), senior tackle Nate Glossip (6-1, 245) and junior guard David Figliola (5-11, 240) have returned.
Junior Cameron Craft (6-0, 210) is expected to be the tight end. Junior Kyle Russell (5-7, 202) and sophomore Noah Stephens (5-10, 195) are battling for O-line spots.
Adding to the offensive firepower is senior place-kicker Matt Schneider (6-1, 185), another veteran player.
“We’re going to be pretty big across the front on offense,” Childers said. “We have some guys that are big and physical on offense, and we have some guys with the speed that can change a game, some real playmakers.”
Defensively, Childers knows Franklin gave up too many points last year (an average of 24). The goal this season is twofold: Mix up the alignments and exude aggression.
“Defense has been our point of emphasis,” Childers said. “We’ve made some changes. I’m not saying we scrapped what we did, but we’ve definitely made some adjustments that we feel can give us an advantage on Friday night. We’re getting in and out of our fronts, making it tougher on offenses to identify what we’re doing and taking advantage of the kind of kids we’ve got.”
Glossip at tackle, Figliola at nose guard and senior T.J. Kepler (6-1, 215) at end are returnees. So are junior linebacker Matt Centers (6-0, 190) and senior linebacker Ryan Knipper (5-11, 225). Senior linebacker Logan Clark (5-10, 180) and senior strong safety Xach Arnwine (6-2, 165) provide experience and versatility.
Montgomery and Kinzer are set to play free safety and cornerback, respectively. Look for senior Kyle Rickard (6-3, 170) and Winstead to contribute in the secondary, and senior Cole Crane (6-1, 175), junior Sam Faulkner (5-8, 145), junior John Harris (6-2, 195) and Craft are all in the mix at end.
“Our style is to get after it on defense,” Childers said. “We don’t want to be sitting ducks.”
Montgomery and Arnwine may both do some punting for the Wildcats. Frank Russell (defense) and Jim Goforth (offense) are Franklin’s coordinators.
“We’re not going to let the kids get complacent,” Childers said. “There’s an old saying that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. It’s in our weight room. It’s a reminder every day. The expectations are high, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. I believe the difference is in the details.”
The Wildcats will have three scrimmages: Tuesday at Lebanon at 10 a.m., Saturday at home against Northmont, Minster and New Richmond at 10 a.m., and Aug. 18 at Fenwick at 7 p.m.