Less than a week from the start of spring football, 14th-year Franklin College coach Mike Leonard is thinking only best-case scenarios.
He wants a ninth Heartland Hoosier Athletic Conference title in 10 seasons as a springboard to a Division III postseason run stretching deep into November.
Spring football allows returning Grizzlies players who have used the winter months to build strength and improve overall conditioning to show they’re perhaps worthy of moving up the depth chart.
Coaches have spent the time trying to bring the best back to the team. Observing the occasional Division I football practice is as much a part of what Leonard does as attending camps and coaching clinics.
“We have our base philosophy of we know what we want to do, but, man, there are some great ideas out there,” said Leonard, referring to plays he has brought back to his team.
“Everybody always says, ‘Well, there’s really nothing new in football,’ and that may be true to an extent. I think they’re wrong because there are a lot of things that a lot of teams do.”
The offseason included hiring three new full-time assistant coaches — offensive coordinator Craig Yeast, offensive line coach Dan Watson and quarterbacks coach Kyle Linville.
Linville, a former Grizzlies receiver, knows every page of the offensive playbook. Yeast, who in the past five years has been head coach at two high schools and an assist at Tiffin (Ohio) University, still is becoming familiar with it.
The same goes for Watson, an Indianapolis native who the past three seasons served as offensive line coach at Rocky Mount College in Billings, Montana.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of turnover here, especially in the middle of a school year. It all worked out phenomenally well. I’m very pleased with the additions,” Leonard said. “It causes you to evaluate what you are doing, and the new blood coming in has their ideas.
“It’s up to me as the head coach to kind of keep our base philosophy. I’ll let the new guys start adding their things into it gradually.”
Franklin College returns six starters on offense and eight on defense from a team that posted an 8-3 record.
Junior quarterback Chase Burton is back after passing for 3,850 yards and 36 touchdowns. Senior back Ty’Ronte Files, who led all Grizzlies ball carriers with 759 yards rushing, also returns.
Junior offensive lineman Samm Hayes, a 2013 Center Grove High School graduate, likes the 16 spring football practices as much for their power to bond teammates as anything else.
“I definitely look forward to spring football just so you can get back on the field and get that chemistry back with your teammates. This year the one thing I’m looking forward to is the new (assistant) coaches and the new things we’re going to learn,” Hayes said.
Franklin College spring football starts with Monday’s team meeting and concludes May 5 with the annual Super Teams Jamboree.
Among the key events are six night practices on the Faught Stadium turf and the GrizSquad Family Showcase on April 23.
“We’re building up toward that spring showcase. That’s kind of our culminating experience. We want to put on a good show for the alums and for the recruits,” Leonard said. “Every day is kind of an investment to get ready for that first game on Sept. 3 against Thomas More.”
One of the more popular sayings among coaches is “Win the Day.” That’s what everyone associated with Franklin College football attempts to do.
“Today is important now. Spring ball is important now. That’s what everybody’s excited about. There’s no competition here, per se. There’s no scoreboard. But truly it is a competition because we know that if we don’t make this a good practice in practice No. 1, practice No. 2 isn’t going to be that good,” Leonard said.
“You’ve got to build on what you do today. At least that’s our mindset.”
Important dates for Franklin College spring football:
Monday – First team meeting
April 6 – Walk-thrus / fundamentals
April 11 – First night practice, 9:30 p.m.
April 23 – GrizSquad Family Showcase, 3 p.m.
May 5 – Super Teams Jamboree, 4 p.m.