It may seem like Franklin High School’s football team is in a somewhat desperate situation after a rough couple weeks.
The Wildcats will tell you it’s a long season and nothing is ever perfect, so the fight will continue, starting with Friday night’s trip to Edgewood for a matchup of longtime Southwest Ohio rivals.
“The morale is good. Our enthusiasm has been good,” Franklin coach Brad Childers said. “I’m firmly confident in this football team and this group of seniors. I 100 percent believe we can win every game on the rest of our schedule.”
Last week’s season opener turned out to be a 22-0 defeat at the hands of Madison, the Wildcats’ first shutout loss since Sept. 11, 2015, against Springboro (38-0). The week prior, Franklin got overpowered by Fenwick in a scrimmage.
“Each team has adversity, and I think our team handles adversity pretty well,” said Matt Centers, the Wildcats’ senior linebacker and tailback. “At times some kids could get down, but captains on the team, leadership on the team, is really important. I think a lot of kids have stepped up and picked up those guys. Seniors, juniors, even some underclassmen have kind of upped the ante in the leadership.”
Childers said the opener was a matter of self-inflicted wounds and a very strong opponent. Madison, after all, was two wins away from the Division V state championship last year and returned most of its starters.
“First and foremost, we’ve got to have better ball security. We have to minimize mistakes and stop shooting ourselves in the foot,” Childers said. “We’ve got to get our defense off the field.”
He said effort has not been a problem with this team.
“There’s no such thing as a moral victory, but our kids played really hard against Madison. They never stopped playing right up to the very end,” Childers said. “The score looked lopsided, but there were a lot of times in that game where it was a lot closer. It just got away from us at the end.
“We do need to go to Edgewood and play well, but one or two games are not going to make or break our ultimate goal of winning a (Southwestern Buckeye League) championship. We knew we scheduled some really good nonconference teams.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Centers is Franklin’s heartbeat. He’s on the verge of becoming the Wildcats’ all-time leader in tackles while assuming more of an offensive role in the backfield.
Centers is rotating with junior Gage Johnson and sophomore Charlie Webber at tailback for now.
“Matt makes us go,” Childers said. “He’s full of energy. He punts. He runs down on kickoffs. He plays middle linebacker. He sets our defense. He plays tailback. We can line him up in the slot. He’s just that guy, and the more that we can get him on the field, the better chance it gives us to win the football game.”
Centers said he’s an all-in kind of guy that’s ready to do whatever is needed. He’s putting in extra conditioning work to increase his two-way success.
At linebacker, Centers has 354 career tackles. Barring an injury, there’s little doubt that he’ll become Franklin’s all-time leader in that category this season.
Former linebacker Nate Woods (2010-12) holds the record of 397. Centers, who has college offers from Urbana and Ohio Dominican, said he saw a bunch of those tackles in person.
“I used to ball boy when I was in elementary school, and he was kind of a family friend,” Centers said of Woods. “He’s a really good guy. I haven’t talked to him in a long time, but he always gives me a preseason text … good luck this season, eat up, stuff like that.”
And what about going after the school record?
“This offseason I thought it was a really big deal, but as I got to two-a-days and the preseason, I have kind of let it off my mind a little bit. I don’t want to think about it and then miss my assignment and put my team in jeopardy,” Centers said. “So I just take it a game at a time, a play at a time.”
While the Wildcats are looking to take a step in the win column this week, Edgewood is already there after battering Monroe 49-7 in Week 1.
Cougars coach Scott Clemmons said there’s plenty of things to improve, but he liked his players’ attention to detail and general crispness against the Hornets.
Senior running back Wade Phillips put on a show. How about eight touches for 286 yards and four touchdowns? He ran the ball five times for 113 yards and two scores, returned a punt 55 yards for a TD and took a kickoff 91 yards to the house.
“I couldn’t really tell you how it all happened,” Phillips said. “We just went out there and played our game. Especially us seniors, we were hyped about being in our last first game of the season. The linemen were creating the holes. I was just running through them and jukin’ and jivin’ trying to get to the end zone.”
He wasn’t touched on either touchdown return.
“We spent a lot more time fine-tuning special teams in two-a-days and stressing the importance of it, and those things paid dividends,” Clemmons said.
“Wade waited on blocks to happen and had great field vision. That’s the thing about him. The difference between great backs and average backs is guys that have field vision. He’s got those great eyes and sees things. Sometimes you wish you could be behind his eyes and see what he sees because sometimes he’ll make a play and you’re like, ‘Wow, how’d he see that?’ ”
Phillips, senior fullback Elijah Williams and senior quarterback Corbin Craft have all returned this year, giving Edgewood an explosive starting point in the Wing-T offense.
“With those three being seniors and the success they had last year … I’m pleased that they didn’t let that go to their heads,” Clemmons said. “They bring that same attitude every day to practice. Every little drill we do, they’re still the first guys in line. They’re still setting a good example for those younger backs.”
The Cougars have some players seeing action on both sides of the ball, though junior wingback/safety Lincoln Howell is the only true two-way guy at the moment.
Phillips said he’s expecting Franklin to bring a physical mentality to Kumler Field.
“They’re big and love to hit, but we’re the same way,” Phillips said. “We always feel confident. If we go out there and play Edgewood football, we’ll be just fine.
“Our hashtag is next level. We always want to play next level. E+R=O (events plus responses equals outcome), that’s always been a big thing. No BCD (blaming, complaining, defending). All of those have meanings, and we stand by them. Being one of the seniors, we really strive to make sure everybody believes in that.”
Edgewood plans to honor the family and memory of Rocky Breedlove, a former Cougar player and coach, in a pregame ceremony Friday. Breedlove died of esophageal cancer in May.
What: Franklin (0-1) at Edgewood (1-0), 7 p.m.
Where: Kumler Field, 5005 State Route 73, St. Clair Township
Series: Edgewood leads 20-16-3, but Franklin has won the last two meetings, including 49-21 last year