There’s no hiding from the spotlight this season for Madison High School’s football team, which is just fine with the situation.
The Mohawks made their first trip to the Division V playoffs last year and advanced all the way to the state semifinals with a junior-laden squad. So, yes, expectations are high-level stuff in 2018.
“This senior class … never lost going through pee-wee and junior high, so they’ve always had the bull’s-eye on their back,” said senior Cameron Svarda, a fullback, safety and place-kicker for Madison. “They love this feeling. I just joined in my eighth-grade year.”
Svarda scampered for 1,940 yards and 26 touchdowns last season and plays on the back side of a defense that returns almost everybody.
It’s still a somewhat different team, and every team has a different dynamic. But Svarda said practically everything feels the same to him.
“The only thing that feels different,” he said, “is that nobody out here is older than me. I’m the big man on the totem pole.”
Mohawks coach Steve Poff said his team has hit some rough patches in the preseason, but he expects the troops to be ready when the lights come on for Friday night’s season opener at Franklin.
“With the expectations as high as they are, this team’s still got a lot to prove,” Poff said. “We have players from last year’s team on this year’s team, but they’ve got to prove they can go out and do it over and over again. We’re focusing on being a championship team fundamentally.”
The early road isn’t easy for Madison. The first three opponents — Franklin, Reading and Valley View — were all playoff teams in 2017.
Poff said he loves the environment around his program and the school right now.
“It’s an exciting time for us with the new leadership in the administration,” Poff said. “There’s been lots of changes, and I feel like everything around here is a real positive atmosphere. I feel like a fog’s been lifted. With the other coaches from the other sports, I think everybody is being really supportive of one another, and that’s the attiude of the administration.”
Franklin has high hopes for this season as well, and a huge crowd is expected to find its way to Franklin Community Park for this Southwestern Buckeye League crossover contest.
“This will be a playoff atmosphere, there’s no doubt. We have two great communities that love football,” Wildcats coach Brad Childers said. “I like these opening night rivalries. I believe this will be a very physical football game.”
Poff said he’s sure Madison is the underdog against Division III Franklin, though the Wildcats took a scrimmage beating from visiting Fenwick last weekend.
Childers said this week’s practices included more intensity coming out of the scrimmage.
“Fenwick’s a very good team. They’re going to win a lot of football games this year,” he said. “We didn’t have a good night. We had to regroup and come together and identify where we made our mistakes, and then we got back to focusing on fundamentals this week.
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“I didn’t do a very good job preparing for that scrimmage. It was definitely humbling. Our guys realize that we can’t take anything for granted.”
Childers said Franklin generally doesn’t face a lot of Wing-T offensive teams. But four of the Wildcats’ first five 2018 opponents use that offense.
The Mohawks run it as well as anybody. Senior quarterback Mason Whiteman returns at the controls.
“We’re going to play pretty amped,” Svarda said. “Every game we play in always takes us a few series to get started. So we’ve just got to get through that, and then we’re going to be good to go.”
Poff said this is one of the fastest Madison teams he’s been around. He also noted that Franklin has a size advantage on both sides of the ball.
The Mohawks might not be at full strength on the offensive line. Senior guard Caleb Bolen is fighting an ankle injury, though Poff is hopeful that he’ll be ready Friday night.
“Typically everybody is a little bigger than us, but we’re fast across the board,” Poff said. “Our slow kids are a lot faster than a lot of other team’s slow kids. We’ll move well and battle up front. That’s the key to every game. If you win up front, you very seldom ever lose.”
What: Madison (11-3 in 2017) at Franklin (8-3 in 2017), 7 p.m.
Where: Veterans Memorial Field at Atrium Stadium, 306 E. Sixth St., Franklin
Last meeting: Franklin won 42-7 in 2013